Why Robert Jenrick may ignore the wishes of North Yorkshire's population in his local government reorganisation

The North Yorkshire public will only get a limited say on the most radical reforms to local government in the county since the 1970s when the Government launches a consultation in the coming days.

Saturday, 13th February 2021, 5:45 am

Ministers are set to make a decision this summer on whether a single authority for all of North Yorkshire or two bodies split on an east/west basis will replace the current two-tier system of councils in North Yorkshire.

A two-month consultation to help Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick make the decision will start this month, local leaders have been told, when officials are also expected to announce if May's North Yorkshire county council elections will go-ahead as planned.

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A flock of sheep near Worton, in Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales take refuge from snow. Pic: James Hardisty

But The Yorkshire Post understands that the main focus of the consultation will be gathering the view of local 'stakeholders' such as the NHS, police, fire services and business as well as neighbouring councils.

Members of the public are allowed to respond but their views are not expected to be 'front and centre' in the decision made about the best model for local councils.

The main factor is likely to be which outcome Whitehall officials consider to be most likely to improve local government services and which represents the most "credible geography".

It means the model chosen by Mr Jenrick may not be the one with the most support amongst the population of North Yorkshire.

Currently local services such as education and transport are carried out by North Yorkshire County Council while others are administered by one of seven district councils.

After being told to reform this system in order for North Yorkshire to get devolved powers from Westminster, the county and district leaders have submitted two radically different plans.

The county plan, which leaders say would create a "single, strong, powerful voice", would see just one authority for North Yorkshire's 600,000 population, with City of York Council allowed to remain separate.

But district leaders say this would be too big to serve England's largest county and have proposed creating two councils, one for Craven, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Hambleton and another for Selby, City of York, Ryedale and Scarborough.

The end result will be the most dramatic shake-up of the way services are run since 1974, when North Yorkshire County Council and the current districts came into being.

Carl Les, Conservative leader of the county council, said a single authority would create a "single point of leadership for North Yorkshire and the louder voice with government in terms of describing the issues that we face".

He said the social fabric of the county had been "severely damaged" by the pandemic, with the death toll passing 1,000 this week, and a "very significant economic renewal" was now required.

Coun Les said: "We're expecting a backlash in terms of families that will go into crisis as you move out of lockdown, the economic pressures that they'll be under, rising incidence of young people needing council support and help, some of the longer-term illness, the long Covid issues and the increased frailty of people who've been through Covid and will need looking after in the longer term.

"So we will say all of these issues point to the need to have a strong council that is able to lead the county through some difficult periods, and the sheer rurality of North Yorkshire with 97 per cent of the county being classed as sparsely populated means that you need to pull together 600,000 people to form an authority, with sufficient muscle and strength in order to do the job and the tasks that lay ahead of us".

He said that two new authorities would not have the "wherewithal and the scale and the capacity and the strength" of one council and setting them up would "involve the most complex and complicated restructuring of local government that there's been".

Earlier this month, Harrogate council leader Richard Cooper made the case that the east and west model "will help drive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and build a better economic future for the whole area".

He said: "It is the only proposal that delivers two equal partners to sit within a Mayoral Combined Authority – which is important for the success of devolution.

“District and borough councils already have a strong track record in bringing forward major economic development schemes for the benefit of our communities. Over the last five years, there has been nearly £900 million worth of investment projects delivered in the area.

“We know many of our businesses are concerned about the alternative bid for a ‘mega-council’ from North Yorkshire County Council, sitting alongside the much smaller existing unitary City of York Council, and would prefer the East & West model so that the full potential of devolution can be maximised. We hope their views will be taken into account when the Government launches its consultation.”

An MHCLG spokesperson said:“All the views received as part of any future consultation, including from individual residents, would be taken into account by the Secretary of State when deciding whether or not to implement a proposal.”