Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick MP has today (21 July) revealed his long-awaited decision to opt for a new single council structure proposed by North Yorkshire County Council over a rival bid for two authorities split on a east/west basis.
His decision follows a major consultation and bitter disputes between leaders in what essentially became a turf war as they campaigned for control over key services to be kept close to home after the abolishment of the county council and district councils in Harrogate, Scarborough, Selby, Craven, Richmondhsire, Hambelton and Ryedale.
In a statement released today, Robert Jenrick MP said: “Residents, businesses and service providers in North Yorkshire have had their say on what will work best for their area and now councils can start planning for the next step.
“I have always been clear that any restructuring of local government must be locally-led and will not involve top-down solutions from government.
“These plans will help strengthen local leaderships and ensure residents of North Yorkshire are receiving the consistent high-quality services they deserve.”
Under the reorganisation plans, the current two-tier system, which has been in place since 1974, will be replaced with a unitary authority with elections set to take place in May 2022.
Currently, services including social care and education are run by North Yorkshire County Council, while the districts look after areas including planning and bin collections.
The aim of reorganisation is to unlock the door to devolution and also save money by bringing all services under the control of a streamlined structure.
However, leaders have been deeply divided over how to go about it.
North Yorkshire County Council is behind the single authority plans, while the district councils except Hambleton, which rejected all options on the table, submitted a bid for two authorities split on a east/west basis.
The split would have seen Harrogate join with Craven, Hambleton and Richmondshire, while Scarborough would have merged with Selby, York and Ryedale.
City of York Council was against this idea and will remain as unitary authority under the other bid now backed by the government.
Reacting to today's announcement, councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, said the government's decision "flies in the face" of its own criteria and added that he hoped for clarity on how it was reached.
He said: "Naturally, I am disappointed at this decision and I will be interested in due course to read the government’s reasoning.
"I have always been in favour of unitary government. It is less confusing for residents who will only have one council to go to for all services and it avoids the expense of duplication.
"My argument has always been that any unitary for our area needs to be of the right size and structure to deliver efficient and responsive services to residents.
"The county council deliver some services exceptionally – children’s services and adult social care to name two. In other areas they let our borough down.
"My job now as the leader of Harrogate Borough Council is to explore how the new unitary authority, based on the county structure, can improve these shortcomings."
Councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Harrogate Borough Council, also said: "It was not our choice to go down this line and we did not support either of the two proposals but, if pushed, our preferred option would have been a north/south split.
"Of the options that were actually on the table, the single council does make the most sense.
"We will fight to get parishes the power and control they want and we have already started the process of assuring that Harrogate town becomes parished.
"We don’t want the local voice lost in a large anonymous organisation."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter