Harrogate's future: Major council reforms up for debate at extraordinary meeting tomorrow
The future of how key council services should be run across North Yorkshire is to be debated by Harrogate councillors at an extraordinary meeting tomorrow.
Harrogate Borough Council's 40 members will come together tomorrow (14 April) to make a response to a government consultation on whether a single authority for all of the county or two bodies split on an east/west basis should replace the current two-tier system.
A final decision on which path to take will be made by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick this summer in what will mark the beginning of the end for North Yorkshire's county council and seven district councils set to be abolished by 2023.
The debate over which type of new authority should take charge of services including highways, education and social care has already sparked divisions between leaders, as well as raising questions over whether Harrogate will get a town council and what the future will hold for the its new £13m civic centre.
But Wallace Sampson, chief executive of Harrogate council, said it was important for people to understand that the consultation was not a voting process but a chance for ministers to gauge the public mood.
"The Secretary of State has made it clear that the consultation is not a referendum so it is not a vote for one proposal over another," he said in a report to councillors.
"Rather the Secretary of State is seeking local views on the specific questions set out above in relation to each proposal."
At tomorrow's meeting, councillors will be given options to either respond to the consultation or not but Mr Sampson has warned not taking part would mean the council loses "an opportunity to put forward what it considers is best for its residents, its area and economy."
Harrogate council - along with six other districts - is behind the proposals for the east/west split which would see it join with Craven, Hambleton and Richmondshire to form one authority with Scarborough, Ryedale, Selby and York coming together for the other.
But City of York Council is against this and has instead backed North Yorkshire County Council's plan to create one single authority while leaving York as a unitary.
A large part of the argument put forward by the county council is that “safer, stronger and more joined up services” can be provided in a single unitary rather than with multiple authorities.
But according to the districts, an east/west model is “large enough to deliver efficiencies and strategic vision, but local enough to stay connected and meet the needs and priorities of local people and businesses”.
The changes are linked to a devolution deal with government which could see millions of pounds in spending resources and decision-making powers handed to an elected metro mayor like in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.
Subject to Parliamentary approval, it is expected that any new unitary council would be fully operational from April 2023 with transitional arrangements expected to be in place in 2022, including elections in May that year.
Tomorrow's Harrogate council meeting will start at 5.30pm and be streamed live on YouTube.
The consultation will run until 19 April. To have your say go to https://consult.communities.gov.uk/governance-reform-and-democracy/northyorkshire/
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter