North Yorkshire County Council leader elected and focused on making savings

Coun Carl Les, newly elected Leader of North Yorkshire County Council Conservative Group - May 2015
Coun Carl Les, newly elected Leader of North Yorkshire County Council Conservative Group - May 2015

The new leader of North Yorkshire County Council has been elected, and said it will be ‘business as usual’ with a focus on making savings of £74m.

Coun Carl Les was the only candidate to stand for the position of council leader last night, after taking over the Conservative Group last week.

There are no sacred cows, we have to look at everything we do, but we must continue to protect vulnerable children and help the elderly stay at home for longer.

Council leader Carl Les

He succeeds Coun John Weighell, who held the post for 14 years and oversaw the beginning of the cuts to the council’s budget.

This would continue to be the priority moving forward, he said, as NYCC is expected to complete implementing cuts in its spending of about £170m - a reduction in spending power of 34 per cent.

Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser Series this week, Coun Les said: “I have been part of John Weighell’s executive for as long as he has been leader, so I think it would be strange if there was a great deal of change.

“The challenges for the county are the same, it’s just the people leading that have changed, and the big priority is to make the savings.

“We have saved £90m and we are looking to save another £74m, and that means delivering services in different ways.”

According to current forecasts, for every £100 the council would have spent previously they will now have £34 less.

“Part of that is about managing the money we have left, so we have got to make sure we spending that £66 the best we can,” Coun Les said.

“There are no sacred cows, we have to look at everything we do, but we must continue to protect vulnerable children and help the elderly stay at home for longer, as most wish.”

Some of the savings, made in areas like libraries, community transport, and some youth and older people’s services, will be made with volunteers stepping in to deliver services.

Through a ‘stronger communities’ scheme, members of the public can put themselves forward and the council would look to support that.

Coun Gareth Dadd, formerly responsible for highways, will be responsible for making those savings as he steps into Coun Les’ former post as executive member for financial services. He will also be deputy leader.

Coun Les said: “We have got a very good team with only two new faces, being mid-term. There is always opportunity to make more swinging changes when there is a new council.

“I have worked with Gareth for a number of years and I am glad he is taking over the finance portfolio charged with finding those savings of £34 in every £100, as well as the management of that.”

Another priority for the council looking ahead would be devolution which is being offered to local governments, as well as finishing the roll out of superfast broadband to the county - something Coun Les has previously supervised.

He said that, as leader, he is conscious that the ‘digital divide’ has been widened with 10 per cent of people without superfast broadband, and this is something he will be looking at.

Coun Les will be NYCC leader until the council is re-elected in two years. However, the leader of the group has to be elected every year.

Of his predecessor, Coun Les said: “John has been an exceptional leader for an exceptional period of time - there are not many leaders who stay 14 years in the post and he has done a very good job.

“He is a very calm person and I hope I can be equally as calm in facing the challenges ahead, because there will be challenges.

“I have been a member of John’s team for a long time, so I know all the challenges. It is a privilege to have the chance now to lead the council into the future.”