The launch of a new council for North Yorkshire this weekend will help protect public services for hundreds of thousands of people during a period of unprecedented financial challenges.
The new North Yorkshire Council will be established tomorrow (April 1), in the biggest overhaul of local democracy in the county since 1974.
Council leader, Cllr Carl Les, has said that the move to the new authority presents a “watershed” in how public services can be delivered for 615,000 residents and nearly 33,000 businesses.
As midnight passes tonight, the county council will merge with the existing seven district and borough councils in a move which will also deliver millions of pounds in annual savings.
North Yorkshire Council is also being built with local communities at its heart while covering the largest geographical area of any local authority in the country.
The new council will retain a main office in each former district area, supported by additional customer access points in the places people go, such as libraries.
Staff will continue to live and work in the communities they serve, listening to the needs of individual places and supporting local priorities and action.
Access to support and services will be easier, via one telephone number, one website, one customer service team and one set of face-to-face customer access points spread across the whole county.
Cllr Les, who will assume the leadership of the new council, said: “The launch of the new North Yorkshire Council represents a major milestone for the county, and will bring benefits for hundreds of thousands of people.
“It is a watershed for North Yorkshire, bringing together vital public services in a way that will just make sense to people. Highways repairs and street cleaning, waste collection and disposal, economic regeneration, housing, planning and children’s and adult services – all these will be delivered with a shared countywide ambition and drive.
“So much work has already been undertaken across all eight councils to prepare for the launch of the new authority, and I would like to pay tribute to the commitment and professionalism of all officers and members who have been instrumental in making sure we are ready for 1 April.”
The launch of North Yorkshire Council comes amid the immense financial pressures on the public sector nationally amid soaring inflation of more than 10% – the highest rate since the early 1980s.
It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of more than £30 million in the new council’s revenue budget for the next financial year, all of which will have to be covered by the one-off use of reserves after some additional savings have also been introduced.
By joining up services and maximising spending power in its first few years, North Yorkshire Council is set to recoup between £30 million and £70 million, which will become annual savings.
However, the high rate of inflation and growing demand for services such as adult social care will mean difficult decisions and creative solutions will be needed to realise the multi-million pound savings.
Chief executive, Richard Flinton, who will take on the same role at the new authority, said: “Millions of pounds in savings that will be made by streamlining operations and the delivery of services could not have come at a more important time.
“We are faced with major financial pressures and the new council will need to drive the transformation of services at pace, taking every opportunity to support green economic growth and working with communities and partners to ensure the money of North Yorkshire’s taxpayers is used most effectively.
“Public services could have been placed under even greater pressure without the move to bring together eight councils into one organisation to create the new North Yorkshire Council.
“There is still a lot of work to do to ensure we are able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to bring the most cost-effective way of delivering services for North Yorkshire’s taxpayers, but I am confident that this can be achieved with the experience, expertise and talent we will have available in the new council.”
The new council is being launched to pave the way for a devolution deal, which is set to provide more decision-making powers to local political leaders and millions of pounds in additional funding from the Government.
A proposed 30-year devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire, with an investment fund of £540 million, was unveiled on August 1 last year, and is due to lead to benefits ranging from new and better-paid jobs and improved skills and training to more affordable housing.
The Government stipulated that a key requirement for devolution is to replace the two-tier system of local government in North Yorkshire involving the county council and seven district and borough authorities and Ministers approved a bid for a single unitary authority. City of York Council will continue as a unitary authority to run in tandem with the new North Yorkshire Council.