Why the coming changes to local councils matter where you live

You’ve probably read – in the news or through our website, social media or this newsletter – about the changes ahead for local councils.

What are they and what could they mean for you, where you live in North Yorkshire?

York and North Yorkshire are at the heart of a move to reorganise local government for the area. This is a requirement to secure a devolution deal for the area from the Government.

Devolution transfers money and the power to decide how it is spent from Government to a local level. We believe it is essential to take advantage of this as we look to supercharge our recovery from the pandemic.

Reorganisation of local government will mean that all seven existing district and the county council will cease to exist. They will be replaced by one or two councils to cover North Yorkshire.

We are proposing a single council which would end the duplication of a two-tier system and operate at scale to secure maximum efficiency and savings, driving innovation.

District councils are preparing an alternative proposal. We believe all proposals should go forward to the Local Government Minister for consideration in a timely way.

Talking to towns and parishes

Town and parish councils have been invited to join in at the start of the conversation about what local government reorganisation and devolution will mean for North Yorkshire.

We have set up a working group of town and parish council representatives who have volunteered to look at the practical issues of making devolution and restructured local government work, to explore ideas and to consider the questions raised.

This comes after more than 250 town and parish councillors joined us for to learn how they could take on new powers to boost grass-root decision making and empower local communities as part of a new future for the county’s local government.

The county council’s proposal for a new single council would involve “double devolution” to pass greater powers and funding to parish and town councils, for those that wanted it.

County Council Leader Cllr Carl Les said: “I was a parish councillor for many years and I attend parish council meetings. Parish councils are the salt of the earth and I enjoy working closely with them. I hope town councils will be interested in taking on more powers – but it is up to them.

“We believe this double devolution, which transfers powers from Whitehall to the town hall and from the town hall to the village hall is an exciting prospect. We are seeking more powers from the government, but we want more powers to be devolved to the very local area as well. We want to bring people together to get more things done at a local level.”

Cllr Greg White, Executive Member for Customer Engagement, speaks about the importance of towns and parishes in the video on this page, where you can also hear more about other proposals to ensure greater local influence.

Cllr White says: “We need to think about the fact that whichever version of a new council the Government chooses is going to be significantly bigger than the district councils we have now, so we will need to find new ways of making sure that local views are taken into account.

“I think the parish and town councillors will be much more important going forward and they will be able to articulate the views of their local communities and also, where appropriate and where they are comfortable, deal with and deliver some of the local services.

“Of course, North Yorkshire has a lot of experience of working with local groups and local communities. Part of my portfolio is libraries and for many years, large numbers of our libraries have been run by volunteer groups. They are independent, individual and they make decisions for themselves, but they are supported by the county council, who provide the book stock and things like computer support.

“It works well, and I think it could work well in the future for a lot of other services.”

Local at the heart

“Double devolution” is only one element of the county council’s approach to strengthening the voices of local people. It also proposes:

People, voluntary organisations and businesses would be given a louder voice via 25 community networks based around market town areas to drive renewal and innovation from the bottom up. 

Area constituency committees would oversee their local areas, champion their cause, strengthen relationships with their MPs and make important decisions locally on issues including planning and licensing. They would hold a North Yorkshire council to account.

Countywide and local, too

For every £5 spent on council services in North Yorkshire, £4 is delivered by the county council.

We work with local people every day, delivering social care into their homes, educating children, supporting families and businesses across every parish, mending roads outside your front doors.

Our children’s services are graded outstanding; our highways service is among the best performing in the UK, our library service, run in an innovative partnership with our communities, is in the top 10 per cent of those increasing in use.

This is possible because we know our communities and work at a grassroots level.