The Government has today launched a consultation on two alternative plans for new unitary authorities in North Yorkshire.
Two options are being consulted on — unitary authorities following the current North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council areas and an east/west model, which would see the county split in two.
Local democracy reporter Stuart Minting looks at the cases for both proposals.
The case for a single county authority
SUCH is the unique geography of North Yorkshire that it needs a single council and more than 600,000 residents to be able to maintain services, supporters of the North Yorkshire and City of York councils bids to maintain their boundaries have claimed.
North Yorkshire County Council’s proposal highlights how almost one in five of its residents live in areas classified as “super-sparse” and that a single council would provide the “critical mass, scale and financial sustainability” to tackle the challenges of providing services across the area.
While opponents of the model have claimed smaller local authorities would be more knowledgeable and responsive about local issues, the county council says it has delivered most of the services funded by council tax-payers, such as social care, on local level, for decades.
An county council spokesman said: “By keeping the county together we can take the best of all council services and keep the scale to respond to multiple challenges while improving the lives of everyone living and working in North Yorkshire.
“We can also save as much as £260m over five years by removing unnecessary waste and duplication. Money which would be used to protect and strengthen your services at a critical time. No other bid can deliver this amount of savings within this timeframe.”
Nevertheless, critics of the model have repeatedly claimed a single North Yorkshire council would be unaccountable, pointing to how decisions have been made at its headquarters in Northallerton, more than an hour’s drive away from many of the settlements it serves.
In response, the county council has argued it would create local access points for residents to get council services, devolve powers to parishes which wished to take decisions more locally, empower its constituency committees and create local planning committees for medium scale applications.
A county council spokesman said: “We know our people and our places. For every £5 spent on council services across North Yorkshire £4 is already delivered by us and our staff working on the ground in every community, delivering services into every town and village and even into people’s homes.”
The single North Yorkshire authority bid backers say it would provide a strong voice with national reach to speak out for its communities.
A county council spokesman said: “North Yorkshire has an enviable identity – one of the strongest of any English county. We are globally renowned for our hospitality and culture, our market towns, spectacular landscapes and coastline. People are proud to live and work in North Yorkshire. It has a thriving visitor economy and our aim is to protect this brand and build on it.”
Another key plank of the county council’s argument is that a single North Yorkshire council would minimise disruption to services for children, adults and highways.
Despite this opponents of the single authority model say services such as adult social care and children’s services could be improved more if they were delivered by two councils “with opportunities taken to maximise whole-systems thinking through integrated delivery with district services and with other public and voluntary and community sector organisations”.
Supporters of the county’s bid have also raised concerns over large numbers of job losses in Northallerton, where both the county and Hambleton councils are based, if the East-West proposal was pursued, arguing the bases for the two unitary authorities were likely to be in York and Harrogate.
A county council spokesman said: “Our proposal delivers two complementary rather than competing councils, City of York and North Yorkshire, each with unique and distinct qualities to strengthen a devolved, mayoral authority.”
The case for two unitary authorities
BACKERS of the proposal to split England’s largest county into two and link it to the unitary city council it surrounds claim it would improve services and make local authorities more accountable to residents.
The ‘East And West Is Best’ blueprint by Scarborough, Harrogate, Ryedale, Richmondshire, Craven and Selby district and borough councils to go against county council plans for a single authority running the county has been mirrored by district council plans in Somerset and Cumbria, where the Government is also consulting over local government reorganisation.
Hambleton District Council is the only local authority in the three counties not to have submitted a proposal to the Government, with its leader stating its residents would be better off with the status quo, particularly as their council taxes would have to be increased.
The East-West model would see Craven, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Hambleton join together to form a unitary council in the West, with a population of 363,000, and Selby, City of York, Ryedale and Scarborough join together to form a unitary council in the East, with a population of 465,000.
Those behind the proposal say it makes sense to communities as “it reflects existing geographies and respects the identity and character of our unique places”, while protecting local relationships, responsiveness and democratic
Nevertheless, the western proposal would still see an authority serving both Whitley, near Selby, and Whitby, which are about 70 miles apart, and another serving the similarly distanced communities of Skipton and Dalton on Tees.
The East-West model also points towards the geographical peculiarity in York being surrounded by North Yorkshire and yet having a separate local government bodies.
A spokesman for the districts’ model said: “We will unlock the social and economic potential of York, enabling key challenges in housing and vital services to be addressed, and allowing the city’s strengths to be maximised, for the benefit of the whole area.
“Our proposition is based on extensive consultation. It has been developed through listening to our residents, businesses, community groups, charities and partners, and it has their needs at its heart. We know it already commands a great deal of grass-roots support.”
However, those behind the proposal have faced criticism after it emerged its claim that 92 per cent of Richmondshire residents and 74 per cent of people in Ryedale supported its plans for new-look councils were based on just 29 and 31 responses respectively to an online survey.
Critics have also pointed towards City of York Council stating it does not wish to be included in the plans.
Another key part of the district councils’ argument is that two similar sized unitary authorities would offer greater efficiencies long-term.
They say the model has potential for an estimated £56m annual long-term efficiencies which could be reinvested back into the frontline services.
The spokesman added: “The East and West model makes sense to our businesses. It reflects the economic footprints of the area, providing great potential for strong, inclusive and clean growth, and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic through localised regeneration development. It enhances our ability to support businesses by strengthening infrastructure improvements across two larger, more strategic footprints.”
While the Government has insisted on local government reorganisation in North Yorkshire and York as part of a devolution deal, those supporting the East and West model have highlighted that proposal is the only one that would produce two equal partners to sit within a mayoral combined authority.