Minister confirms position on bid to keep county together

This story was published 4 August 2020

The Local Government Minister has issued a strong rebuttal to claims that a single new council for North Yorkshire would not be acceptable.

Devolution montage

In a letter to the County Council received yesterday (Monday 3 August), Simon Clarke MP confirmed that a unitary with a population of 610,000 would be within scope, were North Yorkshire to submit such a proposal, in response to an invitation from the Secretary of State.

The letter continues: “As you know and we have discussed, we believe areas such as North Yorkshire moving to unitary status with more sustainable and efficient councils can have significant benefits for local people and businesses, including improved and more affordable local services, stronger and more accountable local leadership, and by removing a layer of governance enabling town and parish councils and local communities to be genuinely empowered.”

The letter follows Government’s order that the current two tier structure be changed in order for the county to qualify for a devolution deal. That means the current arrangement whereby a total of 8 councils deliver services here, must end.

A devolution deal would supercharge the county’s regeneration prospects at a critical time, enabling a renewed economy, facilitating more skills, training and job creation, boosting infrastructure and driving new opportunities post-pandemic.

North Yorkshire County Council has welcomed the Government’s challenge to remove the current two tier system and is clear that the county should not be broken up. Other proposals to restructure local government have indicated they would split North Yorkshire in half and potentially include the City of York – something the city, which is already a well-established unitary council, has said it would not support.

Cllr Carl Les, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “I thank the minister for clarifying the issue around whether a single council would be within the range of Government’s plans and I hope this lays the counter argument to rest once and for all. It’s there in black and white to be read by anyone who would like to see it so now we get on with the important business of preparing our bid.

“The timescales are tight and time is of the essence – the moment is now and we have a very strong case to argue.

“Not only will a new single, strong, sustainable council for North Yorkshire protect outstanding services which safeguard our most vulnerable people, but it is the only bid which will keep the county together and prevent the huge disruption to frontline public services that splitting them up would deliver.

“It will also enable a double devo deal by which we will empower local communities by handing down additional powers and budgets to town and parish council who want them and give people a stronger say via a network of community forums based around market town areas.”

Chief Executive, Richard Flinton, said: “We are working hard on our bid and very much focused on ensuring it is based on facts and evidence. It is already crystal clear that one new council would retain extremely valuable high quality services for children and adults across the county, simplify things for residents and businesses, strengthen our voice at a national level and save in excess of £25 million a year.

“Such benefits, based on a single council serving a county footprint, are well demonstrated by the likes of Durham and Cornwall. We must not be left behind.

“Equally importantly, North Yorkshire has a globally recognised brand and the people who live, work and visit here recognise that value. It must not be broken up.”

Earlier this summer, responding to a parliamentary question on the size of new unitary councils Government issued the following which also confirms the minimum optimum size for new councils wanting to pursue devolution deals:

“The Devolution White Paper to be published this Autumn will set out our transformative plans for economic recovery and renewal, and for levelling up opportunity, prosperity, and well-being across the country. These plans will include restructuring our local institutions to deliver these outcomes, establishing more mayors and more unitary councils the populations of which will depend on local circumstances but as a rule of thumb are expected to be substantially in excess of 300k-400k.