Political leaders give verdicts on unitary council’s first month

County Hall.

Few teething issues have emerged during first month of the country’s largest unitary council by area, the leaders of its political groups have agreed.

Councillors said residents facing confusion over who to contact and delays of about 30 minutes when trying to phone North Yorkshire Council’s call centre had been the most major cause of concern since the county council and seven district authorities fused operations on April 1.

Ahead of North Yorkshire Council’s launch its chief executive Richard Flinton warned while the authority’s basic infrastructure had been created ahead “snagging issues” were expected when the new council launched due to the scale of the merger and “eight different ways of working”.

When asked whether he was pleased with how the transfer had gone so far, the Conserative-run council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les said: “Yes. It has gone surprisingly well, but with the amount of effort put in by Richard Flinton and his team I shouldn’t be surprised.”

He added: “We always said if you are going to chose a time to do local government reorganisation you wouldn’t necessarily be coming out of a pandemic with a war going on in Ukraine and various other things happening.

“You wouldn’t chose to launch on April 1, when council tax bills are going out for a new authority and people renew their garden waste collection waste collections with the new authority, but still have phone numbers for the old authorities.”

Speaking ahead of a meeting behind closed doors with Mr Flinton and the other political group leaders to discuss the council’s first month, Coun Les said the unitary’s contact centre had become deluged, resulting in lengthy answering delays and potentially some residents hanging up.

He said: “The contact centres have been busy and have not been as to strength as we thought they might be. We are taking steps to increase recruitment and increase training.”

The leaders of the council’s other political groups agreed no other major issues had emerged during the authority’s first month.

Labour group leader Councillor Steve Shaw Wright said while the unitary authority appeared to be “generally working”, its call centre had been “an absolute abomination”.

He added: “Selby Town Council just can’t do anything because people have been forever ringing them up because North Yorkshire’s call centre doesn’t work.”

Green group leader Councillor Kevin Foster said: “This has been a massive undertaking and on the whole things have gone very well. There’s still lots of work to do, but if you’d asked me if I’d have accepted this when the changeover went in I would have grabbed it with both hands.”

Liberal Democrat gropu leader Councillor Bryn Griffiths said residents struggling to find phone numbers to contact the unitary, which was “trying to force people to use the internet a lot”, and delays in answering, had represented “a mixed start” for the unitary.

He added: “With a big organisation of about 10,000 employees there are bound to be a few hiccups.”

Independent group leader Councillor Stuart Parsons added: “Things could have gone better, but it also could have gone a lot worse.”

He said the centralised call centre had not appeared to work as well as “phoning the old numbers for district council call centres”.

Coun Parsons said: “It’s been mainly hiccups, nothing major appears to have gone wrong, which is very comforting. It’s just a question of trying to iron out the hiccups and ensuring services improve considerably.”