Rival Harrogate 'devo' councils set to clash in live online meeting

The battle for how local government is run in our region after devolution takes place intensified with new claims that Harrogate Borough Council’s prefered option in the forthcoming shake-up of local government would save more than double the amount of money promised by the county council in its version.

Friday, 4th September 2020, 5:23 pm
Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper, pictured, and Chief Executive Wallace Sampson will outline plans for two unitary councils covering the York and North Yorkshire area in a Zoom meeting organised by Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce.

Research commissioned by district councils, including Harrogate, who are opposed to North Yorkshire County Council’s proposals to form a new giant unitary authority shows that their alternative option for East/West model for local government would save up to £56m a year.

That figure, calculated by KPMG, is more than double the £25m promised by the county council.

But the leader of Harrogate Borough Council, Coun Richard Cooper said the district’s alternative plans would also bring benefits beyond cost savings.

Coun Cooper said: “Having one council providing all our local services is a sensible change to make.

“The current system leads to confusion over who does what and builds in unavoidable additional costs over a single council option.

“There are many good things the county council does but these could be delivered even better by a more locally-based council delivering all our services and that is what I support.

“But I don’t want to see our award-winning parks and gardens become the property of a remote bureaucracy.”

The latest disagreement over which council arrangement would work best as part of the requirement of the Government’s plans for devolution for York and North Yorkshire comes just days before the two sides will get the chance to put their views to Harrogate’s business community online.

Organised by Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, the Devolution in North Yorkshire & Unitary Proposal event will be held held via Zoom next Monday, September 7 at 6pm.

Speaking in person will be the two opposing sides.

North Yorkshire County Council Leader Carl Les and Chief Executive Richard Flinton will put forward the case for two unitary authorities - York and North Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, Harrogate Borough Council Leader Richard Cooper and Chief Executive Wallace Sampson will outline alternative plans for two unitary councils covering the York and North Yorkshire footprint.

North Yorkshire County Council argues its proposals are a natural evolution as it already provides most of the services voters enjoy.

The county council’s chief executive Richard Flinton said: “A new unitary authority would deliver services in the order of £600m a year. Currently North Yorkshire County Council delivers £500m worth of those services, so the increase in service delivery is only around 20 per cent.”

But district councils in the region are in agreement with Harrogate that such a step could have negative consequences on local democracy.

Speaking on behalf of the leaders, Coun Steve Siddons, leader of Scarborough Borough Council, said: “Our East/West proposal would create two brand-new authorities, less remote and more optimal in size than the ‘mega council’ option.

“We could have the best of both worlds: two councils able to reduce costs, produce economies of scale and make maximum efficiencies, while keeping all-important local links with our communities.”

The districts’ proposals to the Government would include the creation of two brand-new councils across North Yorkshire and York: Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and York in the east; and Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate and Richmondshire in the west.

The east authority would have a population of 465,000, while the west authority would have a population of 363,000.

But the current wrangling is leaving opposition politicians, council staff and their trade unions almost distraught.

County councillor Geoff Webber, leader of the Lib Dems on North Yorkshire County Council, argues all of the options presented by councils will result in less representation for Harrogate and Knaresborough residents.

He said: “It’s puzzling to see how an East-West option could possibly present the requisite local connection.

“The worst possible time for the Government to impose this radical transformation is in the midst of a pandemic.”

And Unison, which represents more than 7,000 public service members in North Yorkshire, said no one should be under any illusion than when councils proclaimed cost savings, they meant job cuts. Union officials say any rearrangements must protect jobs, level-up pay and minimise disruption to services.

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