North Yorkshire County Council leader hits back at devolution 'propaganda’ claims

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The leader of North Yorkshire County Council has hit back against claims the authority used propaganda as part of its devolution campaign.

Coun Carl Les said he was "disappointed" when his authority was accused of spreading misinformation by the region's rivalling seven district council leaders, who he has now targeted with fresh criticism of his own.

It comes after the tit-for-tat battle between the two political groups spilled over when the authority issued a press release claiming its northern neighbour Durham County Council had shown a "strong backing" to its plans for a North Yorkshire super council.

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While Durham’s chief executive did speak in favour of a unitary authority, its leader, Coun Simon Henig, denied having made any such endorsement.

Coun Carl Les said he was "disappointed" after NYCC was accused of spreading misinformation by the region's seven district council leaders.Coun Carl Les said he was "disappointed" after NYCC was accused of spreading misinformation by the region's seven district council leaders.
Coun Carl Les said he was "disappointed" after NYCC was accused of spreading misinformation by the region's seven district council leaders.

It prompted calls for North Yorkshire County Council to “play fair with the public”, with the seven district leaders saying "the public deserve honesty and fairness as we work out the future of local government in North Yorkshire and York."

"But it is becoming clear that North Yorkshire County Council is instead resorting to propaganda to overstate support for its mega-council model", they added.

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However, Coun Les says the reference to Durham was misinterpreted and hit back with his own words of criticism.

"The example of Durham was used to demonstrate how community engagement can still operate effectively in a unitary authority, not to endorse the bid which has not been finished yet", he said.

"We have tried to be factual and play with a straight bat.

"I'm disappointed that the district leaders have characterised our press statements as a propaganda war. Their social media campaign may be seen as kettle and pot."

North Yorkshire County Council has said a so-called super council to serve 600,000 residents - whilst leaving City of York and its population of around 200,000 intact - is the best way forward to replace the current two-tier local government system.

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Meanwhile, the region's seven district leaders are said to be exploring the creation of two councils of roughly equal size - around 400,000 residents - by involving York in their joint-proposals.

The political groups have clashed over their opposing plans, with the district leaders saying a unitary authority is too big, and the county council raising concerns over splitting North Yorkshire in two.

The deadline for final submissions to be made to the government is September and with tensions likely to heighten again, Coun Les has called for "mutual respect" between the two groups.

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He said: “Let's get on and prepare our respective proposals and on the assumption we all get a letter inviting us to do so, let's submit them to the Secretary of State and the Local Government Minister, the two most senior politicians in the land charged with making local government deliver, and let them test the bids against the criteria for success that they have drawn up.

“So no more thinking of whipped votes, no more trying to stop an opposing team get on the pitch, please. Let’s proceed with mutual respect.

"We are all trying to serve our residents to the best of our ability, increase efficiency and remove costs.”

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter