What will local government reorganisation mean for the Harrogate district?

Harrogate Borough Council's 47-year history of running key services including bin collections and planning is coming to an end.

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 9:05 am
Updated Saturday, 24th July 2021, 9:08 am
The reorganisation of North Yorkshire's councils is coming and it will bring major changes to how services are run in Harrogate.

The authority - along with North Yorkshire County Council and the other six district and borough councils - are to be scrapped and replaced by a single unitary authority which will take over from April 2023.

The reorganisation plans have been met with dismay from district and borough leaders who wanted to keep control of services closer to home - and there are many unanswered questions about what it will mean for Harrogate's residents, businesses and council staff.

All services across North Yorkshire - also including social care, licensing and highways - will be brought under the control of the new authority. They will also be delivered by most of the same staff, although some senior roles, such as chief executives, will be axed.

What will be one of the biggest changes though is how key decisions on services are made.

All current councillors will have to stand for election in May 2022 and there will be fewer seats up for grabs.

Those who are elected will represent many more residents across wider areas - an issue which has been a concern of some councillors fearful that public voices will be diluted.

But councillor Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, which is behind the single authority plans, has insisted the changes will make things easier with residents only having to deal with one council and one councillor rather than two.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: "The current two-tier system is confusing, inefficient and residents have to have numerous conversions with different councillors rather than one.

"Through local government reorganisation, we can make things much simpler and achieve considerable savings.

"We are very pleased that the government has chosen our proposal. We were judged on three criteria areas and we scored very highly - clearly that shows we are on the right track.

"Reorganisation has always been an important thing to do and although some people have questioned whether this is the right time, I believe it is as it will all be part and parcel of our recovery as we come out of the pandemic."

The government's decision to support the single council plan was announced on Wednesday and was chosen over a rival bid for two authorities split on an east/west basis.

Under the next steps, a draft structural changes order will be laid in Parliament at the end of year and will include plans for the transitional arrangements, including elections.

It is likely that some form of shadow authority will then oversee the merging of councils.

The new authority will need a new name and logo - and with the guidance of central government, it will have several key decisions to make over how it wants to operate.

These will include whether it should have a cabinet structure similar to those seen across the county and district councils at the moment - and to also confirm the likely decision that Harrogate and Scarborough will get a town council.

There will also be the question of what decision-making powers will be devolved down to local areas through constituency committees based on parliamentary boundaries.

In an attempt to address concerns about this, councillor Les said a key part of the single council plan has been that these committees would get enough powers to ensure local councillors and residents have a say on what matters to them.

He said: "A very clear aspiration of mine is that these area constituency committees will get the decision-making powers they need. We already have these committees on the county council and they have worked very well, particularly during the pandemic."

Councillor Les also said it "makes sense" for the new council to be headquartered in Northallerton where the county council is currently based.

He added most staff would continue to be based in local areas and that a review of council buildings - including Harrogate's new civic centre headquarters - would be carried out by the new authority.

It is hoped reorganisation will unlock the door to a devolution deal with the government in a move which could see decision-making powers and millions of pounds in funding passed down from Whitehall to North Yorkshire.

This could also lead to an elected mayor for North Yorkshire, similar to those seen in South Yorkshire, the Tees Valley and Greater Manchester, who would cover both the new authority and City of York Council which will remain untouched under the reorganisation plans.

Councillor Les added: "A year ago reorganisation was a government request, it then became a requirement. We have now met that requirement and it is time to get on with devolution which is the real prize we have been waiting for.

"It is long overdue and you just have to look over the northern border to see how Tees Valley is motoring ahead with mayor Ben Houchen while North Yorkshire has been stuck in the lay-by.

"We are not just talking about devolving powers down from Whitehall to the county, we are talking about a double devolution of new powers coming to town and parish councils.

"Harrogate itself as a town is going to be hugely important to this, not to mention the surrounding areas such as Masham, Boroughbridge and Knaresborough.

"These areas are already represented by very passionate and evocative people who are making sure their communities get the best possible deals from their councils.

"This will not change going forward."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter