Over the last few months, district and borough council leaders have been working hard to develop the very best proposals for local government reorganisation in North Yorkshire.
This is because the Government has indicated that we need to create new unitary authorities in order to unlock the benefits of devolution for our region. Under devolution, these unitary authorities would sit within a Combined Authority, with an elected Mayor.
The district and borough leaders have taken a collaborative approach, consulting local people, businesses and organisations and listening carefully to their views, in order to get change right.
The Government has not yet formally invited us to submit proposals, but if and when that invitation comes, we have a model that would ensure strong local leadership and democratic representation.
Experts at KPMG have worked with the district and borough leaders to draw up a case for the creation of two unitary authorities; with Craven, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Hambleton in the West, and Selby, York, Ryedale and Scarborough in the East.
This would give us two unitary authorities with a similar population and economic size, giving them an equal footing in a combined authority, whilst also having the optimum size levels to enable effective strategic and local service delivery to citizens and communities.
Meanwhile, North Yorkshire County Council continues to push its ‘mega-council’ model, which would create a unitary authority covering the whole of North Yorkshire, with a population of 618,000, while preserving the existing City of York unitary authority with a population of 211,000.
This would create a massive imbalance in any combined authority. North Yorkshire is five and a half times the size of Greater London; it’s as big as Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire combined.
District councils are deeply embedded in the fabric of their communities, towns and cities; this has been evident in our swift and effective response to the Covid-19 crisis. The community response in particular has been based on strong foundations of partnership working with the voluntary and community sector.
There is a very real danger that in a county-wide unitary, local knowledge and representation of local communities will be lost. Councils which maintain localism, supporting communities through building on close partnerships with the voluntary sector will deliver more for local communities, and our East & West model achieves this.
We recognise that the best aspects of current service delivery must not be lost through reorganisation, including the County’s current outstanding children’s services. Equally however, the model must enable service delivery improvement across the whole of York and North Yorkshire, whilst minimising disruption to key services, especially for vulnerable groups and safeguarding. Our model will enable existing partnership working to grow and strengthen, including health, police, voluntary sector and housing, to promote strong, safe, inclusive and healthy communities.
Local relationships with the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) are really important in our model if we are to ensure that the principles of localism are embedded. We want to co-design services with the VCS to develop local bottom-up solutions that the wider community can identify with.
Within an ‘East & West’ model the VCS can build on established connections to develop and scale up where appropriate. York and North Yorkshire must not lose the benefits of our local partnership working.
Wallace Sampson OBE
Harrogate Borough Council