Call to 'play fair' in North Yorkshire devolution debate as county council accused of 'propaganda'

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North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has been accused of peddling “propaganda” through its bid to create a single unitary authority for the region ahead of any devolution deal with the government.

The seven district and borough council leaders from across North Yorkshire said the county council should “play fair” as differing factions set out their stalls over the make up of local government in the region in the future.

But Carl Les, leader of the Conservative-run NYCC turned the accusation back on the district councils, saying: “Their social media campaign may be seen as kettle and pot.”

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It comes after a NYCC press release issued on Wednesday said neighbouring Durham County Council had backed its plan for a single unitary authority for the county.

Left, Mark Crane, leader of Selby District Council, and right, Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council. Photos: JPI MediaLeft, Mark Crane, leader of Selby District Council, and right, Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council. Photos: JPI Media
Left, Mark Crane, leader of Selby District Council, and right, Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council. Photos: JPI Media

The release said: “The bid for the creation of a single North Yorkshire Council has been given strong backing by neighbouring Durham as a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the prospects for the county as part of a devolution deal.”

And it was accompanied by a video of Durham’s chief executive Terry Collins, who said “there is no better way of operating”.

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But Labour-run Durham’s leader, Simon Henig, later said the authority did not have a corporate view about what should happen in other areas, but that Durham had seen a number of benefits from becoming a unitary.

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Coun Henig said: “We have not had a vote on this and would not seek to give our views on what should happen in other areas.”

Mr Les said: “The example of Durham was used to demonstrate how community engagement can still operate effectively in a unitary authority, not to endorse the bid which has not been finished yet.”

But speaking on behalf of North Yorkshire’s seven district and borough council leaders, Selby’s Mark Crane, said: “The public deserve honesty and fairness as we work out the future of local government in North Yorkshire and York.

“But it is becoming clear that North Yorkshire County Council is instead resorting to propaganda to overstate support for its mega-council model.”

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He said the smaller councils were conducting an independent study, in which “early analysis shows there are practical and democratic benefits to creating two unitary authorities with roughly even populations”.

But he added: “We promise to play fair, to be frank, and to be open and responsive to feedback, as we work with our residents, businesses and partners to build the very best proposal for new local government. We call upon North Yorkshire County Council to do the same.”

Mr Les said: “I agree with Coun Crane, a long-standing colleague, that we should all play fair.

“We have tried to be factual and play with a straight bat. We have not criticised the preparation of their proposal, other than we have a fundamental concern about splitting North Yorkshire in two, and bringing an unwilling York into the mix. They think that our proposal is too big. So let’s agree to disagree.

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“Let’s get on and prepare our respective proposals and on the assumption we all get a letter inviting us to do so, let’s submit them to the Secretary of State and the Local Government Minister, the two most senior politicians in the land charged with making local government deliver, and let them test the bids against the criteria for success that they have drawn up.

“Then they can consult to gauge support.

“So no more thinking of whipped votes, no more trying to stop an opposing team get on the pitch, please. Let’s proceed with mutual respect.

“We are all trying to serve our residents to the best of our ability, increase efficiency and remove costs.”