Harrogate council reveals its vision for devolution as leader urges caution against 'Northallerton mega council'

The Harrogate Advertiser can reveal exclusively what Harrogate’ Borough Council’s preferred vision of the future is likely to be as the deadline looms for the biggest shake-up in local government for decades.

Thursday, 20th August 2020, 2:00 pm
While North Yorkshire County Council has already staked its claim to lead a so-called super council in the Government’s push for devolution in York and North Yorkshire, Harrogate Borough Council has been working towards a radically different submission.

While North Yorkshire County Council has already staked its claim to lead a so-called super council to meet the Government’s push for devolution in York and North Yorkshire, Harrogate Borough Council has been working towards a radically different submission in time for next month's deadline.

Now, after weeks of talks with the leaders of the six other North Yorkshire district councils working together with consultants KPMG, Harrogate council’s leader has confirmed what that their approach to the Government next month will look like.

Coun Richard Cooper said the district council leaders had been looking at a number of options with two emerging as clear front-runners.

Their first preferred option is two new councils based on the areas covered by York, Selby, Harrogate and Craven in a southern unitary council and Richmondshire, Hambleton, Ryedale and Scarborough in a northern unitary council.

The second option is also two new councils but these would be based on an eastern council including York, Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough with a western council containing Harrogate, Craven, Hambleton and Richmondshire.

But Coun Cooper said it was clear where the best interests of Harrogate itself lay and it was not in North Yorkshire County’s version which would see all the districts councils swallowed up in one giant council serving 600,000 residents, while leaving the City of York and its population of around 200,000 intact.

Coun Cooper said: “North Yorkshire County Council’s approach is to gobble up all our precious local services and lump them together in a Northallerton-based mega-council. I don’t want to see our award-winning parks and gardens become the property of a remote bureaucracy.

“Worse, a giant council running all our services from Northallerton will be a monster compared to its minnow neighbour - the City of York Council. It will make the new Mayor’s job a nightmare as she or he tries to allocate funding equitable across the patch.

“It is clear that the East/West option, which would see Harrogate combine with Richmondshire, Hambleton and Craven fits better with the Government’s stipulations and I expect it will be the proposal going forward from the district councils.

“The East-West option better fits the Government’s requirements for a number of reasons. The populations of each council will be relatively close to one another with 44 per cent of the population in the eastern council and 56 per cent in the west.”

Over the next fortnight the seven district leaders will work up the proposals further with consultants KPMG.

An proposal must secure the support of at least one council for it to be placed before the Government next month for consideration.

Devolution: The full statement by Harrogate Borough Council leader, Coun Richard Cooper

"In July the Local Government Minister, Simon Clarke, directed councils in York and North Yorkshire to examine how they are set up and bring forward proposals to him during September.

"The directions included abolishing the current two-tier system of county and district councils, new single councils – so called unitaries – having a population of around 400,000 people, and certainly no fewer than 300,000, and the City of York being encompassed in to the proposals.

"The leaders of the seven North Yorkshire district councils have been working together with consultants KPMG to look at new structures that fulfil the government’s criteria but keep council services as local as possible to the people who use them.

"The new councils will be required to work under a new devolution deal which will see national powers and cash devolved to a locally-elected York and North Yorkshire Mayor. This will be the biggest shake-up of local government since 1974."

"District council leaders have looked at a number of options with two emerging as clear front-runners.

"The first option is two new councils based on the areas covered by York, Selby, Harrogate and Craven in a southern unitary council and Richmondshire, Hambleton, Ryedale and Scarborough in a northern unitary council.

"The second option is also two new councils but these would be based on an eastern council including York, Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough with a western council containing Harrogate, Craven, Hambleton and Richmondshire.

“Having one council providing all our local services is a sensible change to make. The current system leads to confusion over who does what, to duplication and builds in unavoidable additional costs over a single council option.

“Both the proposals which have emerged as the front runners have their attractions.

"However it is clear that the East-West option fits better with the government’s stipulations and I expect it will therefore be the proposal going forward to government from the district councils.”

“The East-West option better fits the government’s requirements for a number of reasons.

"The populations of each council will be relatively close to one another with 44 per cent of the population in the eastern council and 56 per cent in the west.

“A North-South option gives a large disparity between the northern council and the southern council’s populations.

“Each of the new councils will contain powerful economic centres such as Harrogate and York. In the North-South option all the big economic centres would be in the southern council leaving a northern council languishing as a poor relation to its southern neighbour.”

“Many other factors come in to play too. The average salary is more balanced between east and west councils with a large gap in the economically-unbalanced north-south option.

"Because the populations of an east-west councils option are more balanced then one council won’t dominate discussions with the new Mayor over local spending to the detriment of its neighbour.”

“There is still some way to go in drawing up a definitive proposal but it is clear that the East-West option is out in front.

"What we need to do now is place flesh on those bones that will ensure that each area within those councils retains a high degree of local decision making and spending powers.”

North Yorkshire County Council is drawing up its own proposal to send to the government for consideration.

"This option will be based upon a single council for the whole of North Yorkshire and retaining the current City of York Council.

“The County Council’s approach is to gobble up all our precious local services and lump them together in a Northallerton-based mega-council. I don’t want to see our award-winning parks and gardens become the property of a remote bureaucracy.

"I don’t want grants for organisations such as the Harrogate Theatre, the International Festivals and the Homeless Project become the responsibility of a councillor who could be from anywhere in the county.

“I worry for investment in the Convention Centre under the Northallerton-centred option and what that might mean for our hospitality industry. I worry too about how a mega-council will manage to work with all our parish councils.

“And worse, a giant North Yorkshire council running all our services from Northallerton will be a monster compared to its minnow neighbour – the City of York Council. It will make the new Mayor’s job a nightmare as she or he tries to allocate funding equitable across the patch.”

"Over the next fortnight the seven district leaders will work up the proposals further with the consultants. Any proposal must secure the support of at least one council for it to be placed before the government and considered as an option."

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