City of York Council will stay under a radical shake-up of local democracy revealed yesterday evening (Wednesday).
But the smaller authorities in North Yorkshire – Selby, Hambleton, Ryedale, Harrogate, Scarborough, Richmondshire and Craven – will all go.
They and the county council will be replaced by a new North Yorkshire ‘super council’.
The decision means that an alternative proposal – to create two new authorities, one for the east and west of North Yorkshire – has been rejected.
Local government minister Robert Jenrick said tonight: “For North Yorkshire I have decided to implement, subject to Parliamentary approval, the proposal for a single unitary council for the whole of the existing administrative county of North Yorkshire.”
He decided not to implement the proposal for two unitary councils – one council comprising the existing areas of Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and the current unitary of York, and the other council comprising the existing areas of Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate and Richmondshire.
“I considered that this proposal did not meet the improving local government and service delivery and credible geography criteria.”
However he allowed TWO unitary authorities in Cumbria, saying it would “Allow for more localised decision making, which could be important given the geography of Cumbria.”
Critics have argued that the same applies in North Yorkshire which is the biggest county in England.
North Yorkshire County Council is behind the single authority plans, while the district councils, except Hambleton which rejected all options on the table, submitted a bid for two authorities split on a east/west basis.
Cllr Keith Aspden, Liberal Democrat leader of the City of York Council, said: “Residents, businesses and key partners were clear that what matters now for our city is continuing our local and regional efforts to recover and rebuild.
“This decision will allow the Council and its partners to focus on that, building on the strengths of partnership working, continuity and York’s unique identity to drive recovery.
“I would like to thank everyone who took the time to sign the petition, write a letter or work with partners in support of our city and a sustainable recovery. We sent the Government a clear message – decisions for York should be made in York – I’m glad that they have listened.
“Now we will get to work to access the investment that could be unlocked by devolution, which will benefit our communities and businesses and help facilitate a strong recovery.”
Labour Group Leader, Coun. Pete Kilbane said: “Whatever the ills of this council and the way it has been run in recent years, having decisions affecting York residents made in York makes it more democratically accountable.
“We don’t know what factored into the Government’s thinking but it may be that after all was said and done, it went with the simplest option and the one that represented the least upheaval.
“We think this is the right decision for residents, but things have to change.
“It’s clear that by diverting the £77m grant for York Central away from the council and to the landowners, that the Government has a lack of trust in the current administration. We also know the absence of a local development plan for York since the 1950s has pushed Minsters’ patience to the limit.
“Add to that the fact that York Council is the only local authority nationally to receive TWO public interest reports, issued only in instances of serious governance failings, then we have to consider that the ruling Lib Dem-led council has got away with it by the skin of their teeth this time.”
Pete Kilbane continued: “As a council York must improve for the sake of its residents. It is poorly funded but that isn’t an excuse to operate in the way it does, failing to deliver basic services effectively and promoting policies that neglect some of the most deprived communities in the country.
“This decision is an opportunity for a reset, and to kick-start a more constructive, more resident-focused approach to investment decisions and delivery of key services.”
Councillor Paul Doughty, Leader of the Conservative Group in York has voiced disappointment at the announcement and called it a missed opportunity to improve governance and deal with, what he called, the failing council in York through changes to how local government is organised.
Earlier this year the Conservative Group proposed support for an association with Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby Councils which would have meant, they said, no reduction in local decision making where it matters in areas like Planning, but economies of scale in various areas and improvements by taking best practice.
Councillor Doughty said, “It’s a great shame the Lib Dems refused to work with or have any meaningful discussion with the neighbouring District Councils, who were able to work together cross-party to help come up a model which we believed would have been better for York.
“I am therefore not entirely surprised with the decision announced today. Effectively it is no change in York – dysfunction continues regrettably.”
“The Government had suggested an optimum devolved unitary authority would be near 400,000 population, suggesting York is under efficient currently.
“We know this is the understatement of the century, particularly with residents having witnessed recent events from this LibDem-led authority.
“Events such as paying off the former Chief Executive much more than needed, the infamous failure over declaring an interest by the Lib Dem Council Leader, successive years of maximum council tax increases, repeatedly missed green waste collections, deteriorating roads and pavements, disgraceful action over access in the city for disabled people – the failure list by this Council is endless!
“No doubt neighbouring authorities might also have been wary with dealing directly with such politicians in York.”
North Yorkshire County Council Reaction
County council leader Cllr Carl Les says local priorities will remain at the heart of decision-making and there will be a clear focus on collaboration with partners.
A new single and strong council will deliver all public services to every household in the county from April 2023, replacing the eight councils currently operating under the two-tier system.
Cllr Les added: ““A single council will also make things simpler for everyone – just one number to call, one website, one customer service team and one accountable body delivering all local government services here.
“Support for businesses, High Streets and Market Towns can be aligned more closely with investment in infrastructure like highways and broadband. Planning, housing and health services will be able to provide more joined up support for families and communities.
Wendy Nichols, Secretary of the North Yorkshire Branch of Unison, which represents more than 5,500 council employees welcomed today’s news; “Our priority is to make sure that staff experience the least possible disruption so they can get on with their jobs and continue to deliver high quality and reliable public services.
“Many thousands of staff will now simply transfer to the new council as part of the process of setting it up and hardworking officers in the district and borough councils will be able to TUPE across on their current terms and conditions.
Mark Crane is leader of Selby District Council which will be axed in favour of the new super sized authority covering all of North Yorkshire.
“My reaction is both surprise and disappointment if I’m honest. When the government started this process, one of the things that they told us was they were looking to equalise the size of councils. The figures we were given were between 300,000 and 500,000.
“So to leave York at 211,000 and create a new unitary Council, with 620,000 people across the largest geographic area in the UK, is bewildering”
Keane Duncan, former leader of Ryedale District Council told YorkMix Radio:
“This is not the outcome that I wanted or the one that I’d worked for. But a decision has been made, and I do accept it.
“And I would appeal to everybody in this process to accept the decision and to move forward from here to make the most of it.
“Legal challenges, rarely, if ever work in these circumstances. I don’t think that’s the right course of action.
“I will be working as hard as I’ve come to ensure that the brand new authority which has been created serves our residents (in Ryedale) as best as they possibly can.”
Andrew Williams is leader of Ripon City Council. That is a parish council and may have to deal with the prospect of services being passed back to it as part of the changes.
He told the YorkMix Radio Late Show:
“I think it’s a bizarre move, it leaves residents in York with an inept and incompetent council and removes local government from the rest of North Yorkshire because creating a super authority with Bentham in the West and Filey in the East, over 100 miles apart, you could in no way shape or form describe that as local government.
“Saving money isn’t necessarily a good reason for doing something as local government is about delivering local services to local communities, and how people in Skipton are expected to know what’s going on in Scarborough, for example, and vice versa is beyond me.
“It’s a nonsense, absolute nonsense. And I noticed that the Minister has taken a completely different approach in Cumbria, where he says there are geographical reasons why that area should be split into two.
“It leaves North Yorkshire, the largest area in England with one authority covering a huge geographical area with local communities which have diverse needs and aspirations.
“So I don’t expect things to improve one iota as a result of the decision that’s been taken today.”