Harrogate Tories left 'astonished' as Lib Dems stage walkout at 'waste of time' meeting

The Liberal Democrat group on Harrogate Borough Council last night walked out of a local government reorganisation meeting which they slammed as a "waste of time and money".

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 1:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th April 2021, 1:58 pm
Harrogate mayor Stuart Martin and Liberal Democrat leader Pat Marsh at last night's meeting.

Councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the Lib Dems, said she "could not genuinely understand" why the virtual meeting called to submit a consultation response on how the future of North Yorkshire councils should take shape was needed as the authority had already made an official bid five months ago.

All seven Lib Dem councillors left the meeting halfway through in what the Conservatives described as a "stunt" - with council leader Richard Cooper saying they had made a "total abdication" of their responsibilities as councillors.

"I do not think when you are elected walking out is a very constructive move - that is not what the public elected you for," councillor Cooper said.

"Stepping away from the debate, stepping away from the consultation and stepping away from the discussion when you are elected to have that discussion on behalf of your constituents is a total abdication of the responsibilities placed on councillors.

"I find it astonishing that this debate about the future of services for people has been reduced to a stunt - and not a very effective stunt at that."

The government-run consultation follows an announcement last summer that North Yorkshire’s two-tier councils must be replaced by a unitary structure in order for the county to unlock a devolution deal.

Harrogate Borough Council - along with six other districts - has submitted a bid for two unitary councils split on an east/west basis, while North Yorkshire County Council is behind proposals for a single authority for the entire county.

Speaking last night, councillor Pat Marsh said the meeting was not only a "waste of time" but also a "waste of public money" as the districts have already spent more than £200,000 on consultancy company KPMG to produce a report making their case to the government.

She said: "Back on 4 November 2020, this council made a decision to submit to the government an east/west model. So why are we here tonight being consulted on something we have already made a decision about?

"This meeting is not only a waste of time but a waste of public money. The KPMG report that this council paid for made the points the council wanted to make and no matter what is said tonight the responses will not change."

It was agreed last night that the council would submit two responses to the consultation - one in support of the east/west model and one opposing the single council bid.

A final decision on which path to take will be made by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick this summer and subject to Parliamentary approval, it is expected that any new unitary council would be fully operational from April 2023 with transitional arrangements and elections expected to be in place in 2022.

The consultation is open to anyone and will run until 19 April.

Have your say here. By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter