Think tank calls for North Yorkshire's district councils to be abolished or merged

Local councils responsible for services including waste collection and local planning in rural parts of Yorkshire should be abolished or merged with a larger county council to save money, a leading think tank has claimed today.

North Yorkshire County Council's base at County Hall, Northallerton.
North Yorkshire County Council's base at County Hall, Northallerton.

Getting rid of district authorities in North Yorkshire and replacing them with a single authority would boost the North’s economy and help the county’s businesses and public services, according to ResPublica.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader said the report, which is published on Monday, showed the “benefits and increasing importance of working both locally and at scale”, though he said any such changes would have to be discussed with the affected authorities.

But the leader of one of the county’s district councils last night criticised the recommendations by the ‘Red Tory’ think tank, describing them as the product of “number-crunchers armed with a map and a red pen”.

It comes a decade after similar plans to create a single council covering all of North Yorkshire by disbanding the district councils were rejected by the Labour government.

Currently, North Yorkshire uses a two-tier system for local government, with North Yorkshire County Council responsible for functions such as education, transport and social care and seven district councils providing other local services.

ResPublica says both types of council are responsible for economic growth and public services, with the resulting overlap creating waste and confusion. It says cities have largely abandoned this system in favour of single ‘unitary’ local councils responsible for all plans and public services.

Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper

In its report Devo 2.0: The Case for Counties, the think tank says reforming the system could mean North Yorkshire gets devolved powers similar to those in London and Manchester.

One suggestion is that district councils are abolished, with some of their budgets and buildings given to local parish and town councils.

Alternatively, the leaders of the district councils could become a ‘cabinet’ for North Yorkshire County Council, making decisions together on what was best for the county overall.

Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica, said: “The needless confusion that frustrates the ambitions of business and government alike in our county areas must end now.

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council

“With Brexit on the horizon and our city-regions already benefitting from devolution, we can’t afford the waste and complication that the current system creates.

“Single councils at the county scale are the future and we call on the Government to move rapidly to encourage them.”

Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper was critical of the report by the think tank, which seeks to “establish a new economic, social and cultural settlement for the United Kingdom”.

He said: “Most people agree that unitary councils are a good thing. However, the disagreement lies on the size and geography of any new unitary authorities.

Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper

“A unitary authority based in Northallerton would simply move more services further away from the people who use them.

“I do not know if this Westminster-based think tank spoke to real people who use and value our local services or if this was a spreadsheet exercise.

“But what they need to factor in is that local services aren’t just about cash. They are about quality and availability too. However, most of all they are about the people, families and communities who use them.

“That is why desktop exercises by number-crunchers armed with a map and a red pen must not be allowed to put our local services in danger.”

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “The ResPublica report raises some important issues about how local government is organised and how it can operate more effectively.

“Undoubtedly, at a time of austerity local councils must always consider how they can deliver services more efficiently and in a more integrated fashion and how decisions truly reflect the needs of communities.

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council

“The report highlights the benefits and increasing importance of working both locally and at scale – which county councils like North Yorkshire can do.

“However North Yorkshire would only seek to move forward on any changes through discussion with all local government partners within the county. This must be done with partners, not to them.”