A landmark election to pave the way for the biggest overhaul of local government in North Yorkshire for nearly 50 years has seen the Conservatives secure power to oversee a major shift in how vital council services are delivered.
Today’s election result will pave the way for a new council to be created and how key services are governed for hundreds of thousands of people who live and work in North Yorkshire.
The Conservative Party has secured a four-seat majority to govern the final 11 months of North Yorkshire County Council before it merges with the existing seven district councils and creates a new single over-arching authority across the 3,100 square miles of England’s largest county.
The Conservatives won a total of 47 of the 90 seats spread across 89 electoral divisions ahead of the creation of the new North Yorkshire Council in the spring of next year. One of the divisions – Selby West – will have two members due to the size of its population.
The overall turnout in North Yorkshire for the election was 34.77 per cent, with 166,371 voters out of a total electorate of 478,539 going to the polls.
Independent councillors now have 13 seats on the council, while both Labour and the Liberal Democrats secured 12 members each. The Green Party won five seats, and the Liberal Party has a seat on the council as well.
The leader of the council, Cllr Carl Les, said: “This election is so important for local democracy in North Yorkshire, and the newly elected councillors will lay the foundations for the new council ahead of its launch in April next year.
“I would like to say a heartfelt thanks to all the work that has gone into campaigning and also to everyone who has been involved in organising the election counts today.
“There will be challenges ahead but it is a hugely exciting time for North Yorkshire, and I have no doubt that all councillors who have won will have the best interests of the people who live and work in North Yorkshire at the forefront of their minds over the coming months and years.”
The new councillors will serve the final year of North Yorkshire County Council and will then be the voice of the public for the first four years of the over-arching single authority. They will shape what public services will look like ahead of the launch of the new North Yorkshire Council on April 1, 2023, making decisions affecting the 600,000-strong population in the county.
The move to create the new authority, which will see the county council merged with the existing seven district councils, represents the biggest shake-up in local government in North Yorkshire since 1974, when the current two-tier structure was introduced.
A full meeting of the county council on Wednesday, May 18, will confirm the leader and new members of the executive on the authority, who will be instrumental in driving forward the re-organisation of local government ahead of the launch of the new North Yorkshire Council next year.
Richard Flinton, the county returning officer for the election, who is also the chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “I would like to pass on my congratulations to the winning candidates who have been elected at what is such an important time for local democracy in North Yorkshire.
“They now have such a critical role in shaping the way forward before the new council is launched next year, and I can assure them that they will be given all the help and support they need from council officers.
“A great deal of time and effort has gone into organising the election, and I would like to say a big thank you to both the staff at the county council and all our colleagues in the district councils.
“This has shown how all the authorities can work closely together, and I do feel it bodes well for the transition towards the new single council to oversee the whole of North Yorkshire.”
The move to the unitary authority is necessary to secure a long-awaited devolution deal for North Yorkshire to shift a raft of decision-making and spending powers away from Westminster to the county.
The Government has stipulated that a key requirement for any devolution deal for North Yorkshire is for the two-tier system of local government, with the county council and seven district councils, to be replaced by a single unitary authority. City of York Council will continue as a unitary authority to run in tandem with the new North Yorkshire Council.
The deal to hand over decision-making powers and tens of millions of pounds in funding to political leaders in York and North Yorkshire is currently being negotiated with the Government, with an announcement on an offer for devolution expected this summer before public consultations are staged later in the year.
A total of 310 candidates contested the election, which was held yesterday ahead of today’s count. The Conservative Party fielded candidates in all 90 seats, along with 67 Labour and Co-operative Party candidates, 48 Green Party candidates, 45 Liberal Democrats and 45 Independents. The remaining 15 candidates were from a range of other smaller parties.
Of the 72 councillors who previously represented the county council, a total of 57 stood in the election.
District and borough councils will remain until April 1, 2023, and the councillors serving on those local authorities will continue in their roles until that date.