Durham Council CEO endorses plans for a single North Yorkshire Council, but District Leaders say it is propaganda

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Changes to the structure of local of Government are underway. Central Government has said that the current formation of a County Council, York City Council and Seven District Councils needs to reduced into a smaller number, most likely one or two councils.

A disagreement broke out this week after a press release from NYCC said that the Chief Executive of Durham Council supported their bid for a single council for the county.

The group of seven district leaders has said that making a statement that the Durham Council CEO supported a single council as the way forward for North Yorkshire County Council as propaganda.

We have posted the full press releases below (so you can form your own view)

To note:

  • NYCC said that the CEO Durham Council, Terry Collins has shown his support – that hasn’t been disputed by any party.
  • The Leader of Durham Council was not asked if they supported a single council
  • Durham Council did not take a vote on supporting a single council for North Yorkshire.
  • The Seven Council Leaders have countered/ taken the opportunity to rubbish the proposal of a single North Yorkshire County Council by quoting the Durham Council Leader and another Durham Councillor
  • The Seven Council Leaders have accused NYCC of creating propaganda with a press release that the Durham CEO supported a single North Yorkshire Council.

North Yorkshire County Council Press Release – 11 August 2020

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.

Terry Collins said:

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.

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.

Terry Collins said:

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.

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.

Cllr Carl Les, North Yorkshire’s leader, said:

It will be a far cry from the remote “mega council” portrayed by detractors.

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.

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.”

Find out more about our proposal for a single, strong, sustainable council for everyone in North Yorkshire alongside a devolution deal to supercharge economic development and improve quality of life.

Press Release from North Yorkshire’s seven district leaders 15 August 2020

North Yorkshire’s seven district and borough council leaders have called on the county council to stop using “propaganda” as it campaigns to create England’s largest ever unitary authority.

It comes after a North Yorkshire County Council press release, issued on Wednesday, falsely claimed neighbouring Durham County Council had backed its plan for a single unitary for the county.

The release was accompanied by a video of Durham’s chief executive Terry Collins, who said there is no better way of operating”. But just hours after its release, Durham’s leader, Councillor Simon Henig, categorically denied any such support had been given.

“We have not had a vote on this and would not seek to give our views on what should happen in other areas,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

While Cllr Henig said he would not back North Yorkshire’s bid, other leading politicians in Durham went further, and warned North Yorkshire against becoming a single unitary authority.

Independent group leader Councillor John Shuttleworth, who originally backed the proposal for a single unitary, said it turned into a “a total and utter disaster”, while Conservative group leader Councillor Richard Bell said the savings from becoming unitary had actually been “fairly modest”.

This public rebuttal prompted leaders of North Yorkshire’s seven districts and boroughs to call on the county council to “play fair” with the public as it campaigns to create its mega-council delivering all services across 8,000 square kilometres.

Speaking on behalf of North Yorkshire’s seven district and borough council leaders, Councillor Mark Crane said:

The public deserve honesty and fairness as we work out the future of local government in North Yorkshire and York. But it is becoming clear that North Yorkshire County Council is instead resorting to propaganda to overstate support for its mega-council model.

In contrast, we’re listening to the public and we’re thinking carefully, because we want to get change right. We are exploring all of the options with an independent study and we will ultimately be guided by evidence.

Early analysis shows there are practical and democratic benefits to creating two unitary authorities with roughly even populations. This would result in new councils across North Yorkshire and York, both large enough to be efficient into the future but local enough to keep local connections to our communities.

We promise to play fair, to be frank, and to be open and responsive to feedback, as we work with our residents, businesses and partners to build the very best proposal for new local government. We call upon North Yorkshire County Council to do the same.

The district and borough council leaders are: Cllr Richard Foster (Craven), Cllr Mark Robson (Hambleton), Cllr Richard Cooper (Harrogate), Cllr Angie Dale (Richmondshire), Cllr Keane Duncan (Ryedale), Cllr Mark Crane (Selby) and Cllr Steve Siddons (Scarborough).

Further response from North Yorkshire County Council – 14 August 2020

North Yorkshire County Council leader, Cllr Carl Les said:

I’m disappointed that the district leaders have characterised our press statements as a propaganda war. Their social media campaign may be seen as kettle and pot.

However, I agree with Cllr Crane, a long-standing colleague, that we should all play fair. The example of Durham was used to demonstrate how community engagement can still operate effectively in a unitary authority, not to endorse the bid which has not been finished yet. We have tried to be factual and play with a straight bat. We have not criticised the preparation of their proposal, other than we have a fundamental concern about splitting North Yorkshire in two, and bringing an unwilling York into the mix. They think that our proposal is too big. So let’s agree to disagree.

Let’s get on and prepare our respective proposals and on the assumption we all get a letter inviting us to do so, let’s submit them to the Secretary of State and the Local Government Minister, the two most senior politicians in the land charged with making local government deliver, and let them test the bids against the criteria for success that they have drawn up. Then they can consult to gauge support.

So no more thinking of whipped votes, no more trying to stop an opposing team get on the pitch, please. Let’s proceed with mutual respect. We are all trying to serve our residents to the best of our ability, increase efficiency and remove costs.

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