Row breaks out as Harrogate council leader challenged over devolution decision

A row broke out as Harrogate's council leader was challenged over his decision to approve the district's devolution requests.

Friday, 4th September 2020, 12:25 pm

Councillor Richard Cooper last month held a leader's meeting to approve the submission of the requests to the Government, with hopes to bring £2.4bn of funding to North Yorkshire and York.

However, there were complaints that opposition councillors did not get a chance to question it, and the decision was called in for debate at a meeting on Friday.

Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Aldred accused the Conservative leader of making the decision "behind closed doors" and pointed towards neighbouring councils which voted to approve the same requests - or "asks" - in different ways.

Harrogate council leader Richard Cooper (left) and Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Aldred (right).

Councillor Aldred said: "Had I not taken the decision to call in this matter for discussion today, then these asks and the theory behind them, would automatically become the policy of the council, with in effect only one councillor, the leader, voting for them. That can not be right."

Councillor Cooper hit back at the claims, describing them as a "complete fabrication" of the truth.

He said: "You can come to my meetings, the public can come to my meetings, any councillor can come to my meetings.

"We have a scrutiny process which we are in now to call these decisions in. We have had briefings. We have had group meetings. There are many, many ways the public can take part, and you can take part.

"To say it was a decision made behind closed doors with no input available to anybody but me is a complete fabrication."

Councillor Aldred said he still had concerns over why Harrogate was in the "minority" of councils in the way it took its decision.

Jennifer Norton, head of legal and governance, said there were no issues in the way the decision was made and that different councils take different approaches.

She said: "In Harrogate Borough Council's constitution, within the leader portfolio, there is a specific delegation to the leader to lead on the development of regional and sub-regional policy and strategic partnerships.

"We are happy that the correct legal process has been followed for the taking of this particular decision."

Approval of the requests to the Government means Harrogate can now press ahead with its final devolution bid.

It comes after council leaders across the region were told that in order to unlock a devolution deal, North Yorkshire's eight county and district councils must be scrapped to make way for one or more unitary authorities.

North Yorkshire County Council is behind proposals for one single unitary authority for the whole county, while the seven district councils are proposing the two east/west authorities either side of the A1.

The leaders have until the end of this month to submit final proposals before top-level discussions begin.

If a deal is agreed, the new unitary authority or authorities could be formed by April 2022.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter