At the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Yorkshire conference this weekend, members supported a statement by its regional council that a split based on the existing model of North Yorkshire and the City of York "causes the least disruption to services and staff and allows continuity of services for the vast majority".
A consultation will close next week on whether this model should be adopted in place of the current two-tier system of councils or whether North Yorkshire and York should be split on an east-west basis.
And the TUC said the priorities for the Government in its controversial reorganisation of local councils should be to minimise disruption to staff and services, protect jobs and avoid compulsory redundancies and 'level-up terms, conditions and pay of the staff involved'.
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.
The shake-up was originally proposed as part of a possible devolution deal for North Yorkshire which would see powers and resources handed to an elected metro mayor like in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. If a devolution deal is agreed with government, the councils would sit under a mayoral combined authority.
The issue was discussed at the TUC Yorkshire Regional Conference 2021, an event which sets the priorities for the Yorkshire trade union movement for the coming year.
The motion passed by unions said that against its criteria, it was clear that the model put forward by North Yorkshire and York "are the sensible proposals".
It said: "This causes the least disruption to services and staff and allows continuity of services for the vast majority. The proposal for two unitary authorities, one in the east and one in the west of the county would lead to major disruption to both staff and services and create the potential for significant staff redundancies with a need to transfer over 23,000 staff.
"Whereas the NYCC & CoYC proposals avoid such significant disruption and allow for the continuity of services and massively reduce the potential for redundancies."
A large part of the argument put forward by the county council is that “safer, stronger and more joined up services” can be provided in a single unitary than with multiple authorities.
Its submission last year says: “Administering services in North Yorkshire, and potentially across the City of York, would add layers of unnecessary complexity and create significantly more disruption to existing high performing services and 245 maintained schools.”
It adds that splitting up high-performing county services, such as children’s and adults’ services, “would disrupt current ways of working, require division of in-house provision, migration of service users and schools alongside the renegotiation of provider contracts across significant areas of spend”.
But according to the districts, an east/west model is “large enough to deliver efficiencies and strategic vision, but local enough to stay connected and meet the needs and priorities of local people and businesses”.
With two authorities, it says, services that are currently delivered across the whole of North Yorkshire “will continue to be delivered by their locality teams with opportunities taken to maximise whole-systems thinking through integrated delivery with district services and with other public and voluntary and community sector organisations.”
The idea of two councils for North Yorkshire split along east/west lines has been backed by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, organisers of the Great Yorkshire Show, and the Bettys and Taylors Group, which makes Yorkshire Tea, among others.
Bosses at Flamingo Land and the Black Sheep Brewery have thrown their support behind a single unitary authority along with health bosses such as the chief executive of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust as well as Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker for England.