Taxpayers foot £330,000 bill for consultancy fees as North Yorkshire councils clash on shake-up
North Yorkshire councils facing reorganisation have spent almost £330,000 of taxpayers' cash on consultants to help fight their corner for the future of key services, it's been revealed.
A government-run consultation on the reorganisation plans has this week come to a close with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick set to make a decision this summer 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.
The aim is to save money by bringing all council services including highways, planning and education under the control of a streamlined structure, but leaders are deeply divided and can not agree how to go about it.
It has meant the seven district councils - including Harrogate, Scarborough, Selby, Craven, Hambleton, Ryedale and Richmondshire - have spent around £240,000 on consultants in support of their joint east/west bid, although Hambleton has since pulled out.
Meanwhile, North Yorkshire County Council has used just under £90,000 for its single authority proposal.
Councillor Carl Les, leader of the county council, said: "The reason we have used consultants is because we are talking about very big proposals which involve a lot of money.
"The county council has a budget of over half-a-billion pounds and if you add in another 100 million pounds on top of that from the districts, there is a need to make sure our assumptions are correct.
"We wanted to be sure our plans are solid as they can possibly be, and they are."
City of York Council, which wants to remain a unitary council under the county bid, did not use any consultants as part of the process but did spend £6,400 on an agency firm, as well as £5,500 on a market research organisation to conduct polling.
North Yorkshire County Council used consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, while the districts employed the services of KPMG .
They each produced lengthy reports on how services should be managed and public cash spent under the reorganisation plans which are linked to a potential multi-billion pound devolution deal with the government.
Councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, said: "This was an extensive piece of work requiring professional input, public consultation and modelling. The costs of the work were shared between all the district councils in North Yorkshire and represent a tiny fraction of our overall budgets.
"Looking after the elderly, children with exceptional needs, the homeless and those least fortunate in our society isn’t something we can leave to chance.
"That is why it was important for all seven councils to contribute to make sure we got this right. And we have."
Meanwhile, the opposition Liberal Democrat group on Harrogate Borough Council has criticised the almost £330,000 spends from all councils, saying public cash has been "wasted" on "Tory infighting".
Group leader councillor Pat Marsh said: "Many people will see this as their own political interests, rather than giving much-needed investment to our local services."
Elections for county councillors are being held across England next month but not in North Yorkshire due to the reorganisation plans.
Subject to Parliamentary approval, it is expected that any new North Yorkshire unitary council or councils would be fully operational from April 2023, with transitional arrangements and elections to the new structure set to take place in 2022.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter