Key questions for Scarborough and Whitby harbours over council shake-up – Bob Roberts

AS many will be aware,  come spring of 2022, the whole nature of from where we are governed and how we are governed here in Scarborough, and indeed in North Yorkshire, will change.

Scarborough's harbour - how will it be funded following North Yorkshire's local government shake-up? Photo: Tony Johnson.

The levelling-up process, as promised by successive Tory governments of recent years, will become a reality and, as result,  Scarborough Borough Council will cease to exist.

Some (if not many) will not mourn that – mostly those not within the tightly-knit local government cadre, predominantly officers.

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Some within that cadre may well have to apply to join the new authority, some another authority, whilst others may simply hope to be transferred.

Bob Roberts is the founder and owner of The Yorkshire Lobster Company based in Scarborough.

Happy days, some might say.

At this point it is worth noting the high probability that the harbours of both Scarborough and Whitby are the highest source of revenue of any service provided by SBC, with the exception of the obviously 
highly lucrative parking department, as any resident in search of a parking place will understand.

Also that when devolution occurs, as it undoubtedly will, harbours will be the only service that will not require any realignment of staff either by transfer or redundancy.

However, what some of us in the coastal areas of North Yorkshire are pondering is what is to become of our harbours?

Scarborough and Whitby's harbours face an uncertain future in the North Yorkshire local government shake-up.

How will they be managed?  

Who will manage them? 

What expertise and experience of harbour management will the devolved authority have?   

What will be the proposed financial and operational models? 

How will Whitby's harbour be managed following North Yorkshire's local government shake-up?

How will revenues be spent and on what?  

How, if at all, will the stakeholders be involved?

More importantly, as far as I and other harbour stakeholders of both Whitby and Scarborough are concerned, how will the changes impact upon the fishing communities and their related industies – already under pressure from Covid, from Brexit and even from Shell UK, in their quest for the ever-depleting energy reserves in the North Sea – be treated? How will all my previous questions be answered and implemented?

So this now begs the big question of what expertise (if any) will the proposed new unitary authority possess in the field of managing ports?

For the stakeholders of both ports – i.e. those who are involved in the commercial aspects of the ports (fishing, processing and transportation) who are used to an already poor level of service, what are the chances of it improving?

Surely, the purpose of devolution is to improve services and improve job/career opportunities for businesses, both presently existing and new? It is highly unlikely that an authority without previous experience is going to be able to understand and grasp the requirements of something totally alien to them – running a harbour, encompassing all the aforementioned.

In 2002, the then Labour government produced the Municipal Ports Review which, when published, recommended local authorities should divest themselves of control and allow ports with an enhanced stakeholder involvement to manage and control their own affairs.  

This review gave some council ports hope that they may become instrumental in deciding their own future in an often better and more informed way than the councils that hitherto ran them. Whitby and Scarborough were prominent amongst such ports.

SBC teased Whitby with the possibility of something akin to self-management only for it to be clawed back. In Scarborough, the stakeholders group was shut down.

So come 2022, what does the future hold for the ports of Whitby and Scarborough?

Will the ports be managed any better from Northallerton by someone with even less interest or knowledge than the unrepresentative charade we have now? Will it continue with zero stakeholder engagement and zero maintenance to the ports infrastructure?

Or do we start planning now for a future that comprises an organisation run primarily for the benefit of harbour users 
with facilities fit for the 21st century?

The question is: do we start now by creating a formally constituted body to progress 
and plan for an independent harbour trust for both harbours and have at least some outline structure in place for devolution?

Or do we just wait and hope that the car crash that is fully expected to engulf either or 
both harbours never takes 
place?

Bob Roberts is the founder and owner of The Yorkshire Lobster Company based in Scarborough.

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