North Yorkshire council director resigns from board of Harrogate International Festivals over its support for east/west authorities

A senior North Yorkshire County Council official has resigned from the board of trustees at a leading cultural organisation after it came out in favour of splitting local services into two unitary authorities.

Richard Webb, Corporate Director of Health and Adult Services at the county council, has stepped down from the board at Harrogate International Festivals (HIF) after its support for an east/west split created a “clear conflict of interest”.

The county council has submitted plans for a single unitary authority covering all of North Yorkshire while district council leaders propose creating two councils of similar size either side of the A1.

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The Government, which said in July that North Yorkshire’s two-tier system of government would have to end as a condition of the devolution process, will now evaluate the rival bids before launching a consultation next year.

And whichever outcome is chosen it will mean a dramatic shake-up of local politics in North Yorkshire and the city of York, which could be subsumed into a wider authority with Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough under one of the proposals.

Both sides have included supportive quotes from organisations such as HIF in their submissions in an attempt to convince Ministers that their proposal carries the most local support.

In the east/west document, HIF chief executive Sharon Canavar wrote: “Following consideration of the proposals and past experience of the various models of delivery, I believe that the East/West model is the most effective way to reorganise local government in North Yorkshire, ensuring the best and most equitable option for residents and businesses.”

Natalie Dalkiran explores The Luminarium, a giant interactive art installation, forming part of the Harrogate International Festivals in Yorkshire. File pic from 2018 by Press Association.

Mr Webb told The Yorkshire Post he had resigned as a Trustee of Harrogate International Festivals “following a Board decision to support the East/West local government re-organisation bid by district councils”.

He said: “Whilst I am personally a strong supporter of the County Council’s bid for unitary status, and believe it is the best way forward, the reason for my resignation from the Festivals Board was to ensure I avoided a conflict of interest.

“I absented myself from the board discussion so that any conflict was avoided and I resigned once the decision had been taken.

“I had a series of constructive discussions with Fiona Movley, the Chair of the Festivals and we were both clear that there was no alternative course of action that I could have taken. Harrogate International Festivals does a great job and I wish them well for the future”.

Ms Canavar said: “Richard has resigned from the board in line with appropriate conflicts of interest policies.

“He remains a great supporter of HIF, and we are immensely grateful for his contributions whilst a trustee. There was certainly no animosity and all handled in a positive manner.”

Harrogate International Festivals is a charitable organisation which creates “distinctive cultural experiences through our year-round delivery of festivals and events, as well as nurturing local young talent”.

Its website says it “has fired up hearts and minds since its inception in 1966, revolutionising the cultural landscape of the North Yorkshire spa town”.

Currently there are seven district councils in North Yorkshire providing services such as housing, planning and leisure, while the county council provides other such as education, transport and social services.

City of York is already a unitary authority so provides all local services.Under the county’s proposals, a single unitary authority would be created for all of North Yorkshire and York would remain untouched.

The district councils have put forward a counter proposal where a council would be created for Harrogate, Craven, Richmondshire and Hambleton and a separate organisation created to serve York, Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough.

If a devolution deal is agreed with government, the councils would sit under a mayoral combined authority.

North Yorkshire’s Chief Constable and Chief Fire Officer say the decision about how services would be configured was for politicians to take.

Lisa Winward and Andrew Brodie said in a statement: “We lead two of the emergency services which operate across North Yorkshire and the city of York - and work best when we work together across that area. The strength of this approach has been demonstrated throughout this year in our collaborative response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our ongoing priority, whatever the outcome of the current debate, is to continue keeping the residents, businesses and visitors in North Yorkshire and York safe.”