Move to merge councils in bid to cut costs is roundly rejected

A MOVE to replace North Yorkshire’s seven district councils with two or three authorities has been heavily defeated by members of Scarborough Council.

The issue was first mooted several years ago in a high-profile bid to create a “super authority” and the move to get it back on the agenda came from a senior councillor.

Those in favour of creating fewer authorities in the county argue the move would allow councils to save money at a time when authorities are facing a spending squeeze as they grapple with cuts to their budgets from central Government.

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Labour group leader Coun Eric Broadbent argued that action was needed because of continuing budget pressures on all councils.

“The need to cut bureaucracy and wastage and become more efficient, is of paramount importance,” he said.

But his bid to persuade the council to commission a report on the issue, and to ask Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities Eric Pickles to “encourage” the setting up of unitary authorities, failed.

His motion, discussed by members of Scarborough Council, that North Yorkshire County Council should be asked to support the disbanding of the two-tier local government system in North Yorkshire and that other councils be urged to back the idea, was also rejected.

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Coun Broadbent said there was confusion among the public as to which authority was responsible for which service and he did not believe that eight council chief executives could be justified.

But the leader of the Conservative majority council, Coun Tom Fox, said the other authorities in North Yorkshire – Ryedale, Hambleton, Richmondshire, Craven, Harrogate, Selby – had each vetoed the creation of a unitary authority in the past.

“The answer is to have greater partnership working between the authorities, and by working with all in the public and private sector,” he said.

Several of the councils are already sharing certain services in a bid to save costs.

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A plan to have one unitary authority to serve the whole of North Yorkshire, was turned down several years ago.

The high-profile bid, which was spearheaded by North Yorkshire County Council in 2007 to create a single “super authority”, failed after widespread criticism that local democracy would be undermined and claims by the region’s district councils that it would cost around £43.5m to set up.

The restructuring would have been the biggest shake-up in local government in North Yorkshire for more than 30 years and would have seen the seven district councils merged with the county council.

The latest proposal, rejected by members of Scarborough Council, would have seen North Yorkshire’s seven district councils, replaced with two or three unitary authorities.

Critics of mergers have argued that the vast geographical size of North Yorkshire is simply too great for a single authority to be able to handle key services.