The bid for the creation of a single North Yorkshire Council has been given strong backing by neighbouring Durham as a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the prospects for the county as part of a devolution deal.
Durham County Council, which is of a similar make-up to North Yorkshire and became a single council 12 years ago, bringing county and districts together in one authority, says “there is no other way of operating”.
Terry Collins, Durham’s chief executive officer, said the creation of a single council gave Durham the boost to deliver great services at scale but also to create a strong and innovative localism agenda which empowered local communities to create local solutions to services for their local areas.
In 2014 Durham was voted the best council in the country “which was amazing considering we had only been a new unitary authority for 5 years”, said Terry Collins.
The ability to operate strategically and at scale while enabling parishes and towns and neighbourhoods to have their own plans in place to deliver their own priorities, through the creation of area action partnerships, has led to Durham attracting national and international attention for strong and effective localism.
“In County Durham I think the experience is that local issues are dealt with even better and more effectively than they were previously and I think this is what you can expect going forward if the same situation occurs in North Yorkshire,” said Terry Collins.
To secure a devolution deal for the region, Ministers at Westminster require the removal of the current two-tier local government system in North Yorkshire and for the councils to unitise at pace.
North Yorkshire County Council believes maximum gain and minimum disruption will come from the creation of a single strong, sustainable council for everyone in North Yorkshire, based on the current map and population. This would work in dynamic partnership with the City of York, respecting its integrity as a single-tier council but strengthening shared service opportunities.
Not only will a single North Yorkshire council simplify things for people and businesses, it will protect and strengthen the best of both county and district high-quality frontline services, a crucial factor in facing current challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the county council bid, like Durham, is also driven by a new dynamic localism.
“It will be a far cry from the remote “mega council” portrayed by detractors” said Cllr Carl Les, North Yorkshire’s leader.
“We welcome Durham’s endorsement of our plan at this time. We know our people and our places, we deliver some of the best services in the country right into people’s homes and on the roads outside their front door and you don’t get more local than that.”
In a “double devolution” proposal North Yorkshire’s plan would see greater powers and funding passed to parish and town councils than currently exist, for those that would welcome it.
Voluntary organisations and businesses would also be given a louder voice via 25 community networks based around market town areas which would be the drivers of renewal and innovation from the bottom up.
The plan would improve transparency through area constituency committees to oversee their local areas, champion their cause, strengthen relationships with their MPs and make important decisions locally on things including planning and licensing. They would hold a North Yorkshire council to account.
Terry Collins said: “We have shown it’s possible to strengthen the local voice and have the local service provision actually improved because you’re operating at a scale, there will be a greater resource by actually bringing all the services together.
“Durham council has 12 major conurbations within its county and each one of them is really valuable to the people and we’ve been able to ensure all those areas have their own plans in place so there is every opportunity to have economic prosperity, whether this be looking after buildings, encouraging businesses to open or local street cleaner arrangements – it’s a local approach and very strategic as well, and provides the very best opportunities economically for that area to thrive.”
North Yorkshire’s leader Cllr Carl Les said: “A single, sustainable council will end the duplication of a two-tier system and operate at scale to secure maximum efficiency and savings, driving innovation. We estimate savings in excess of £25m every year, offering the best value for money for everyone. No other bid would be able to match these benefits. Equally importantly it will protect a global and recognised brand which is crucial for our visitor economy.”
Cllr Les said: “But it will also create great local opportunities, critical in the current climate. Our towns and villages have the unparalleled chance to attract a new generation as the shift to home working due to Covid brings changes to the country’s way of life. Our drive towards localism would help to bring renewed dynamism to these communities and further develop their individual character, attracting investment.
“Things will be simpler – by removing confusion over which council does what and providing a single contact point for people and businesses. The county will be stronger in the greater say communities, parishes and towns will have over decisions and in the county’s more powerful voice at national level. And savings will be made - tens of millions of pounds every year - by reducing duplication and by having one single council instead of eight.”