About local gov reorganisation
How does local government work now?
Right now, the picture of local government in York and North Yorkshire is quite complex.
We have different types of councils that do different things.
There is a county council covering the whole of North Yorkshire, which provides services such as roads, social care and libraries.
There are seven district and borough councils that each cover a smaller area and are responsible for services such housing, waste and recycling collection, planning applications, leisure and recreation, collecting local taxes and providing housing and council tax benefits. These councils also provide many services that are not part of their statutory responsibilities, for example: helping vulnerable people, supporting communities, engaging with businesses, delivering strategies and projects to encourage economic growth.
There is also a small unitary council that provides all services for the city of York.
Why is local government changing?
On 7 July 2020, the Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government spoke to the Leaders of the district and borough councils in North Yorkshire.
He told the Leaders that the government wants local government in York and North Yorkshire to be reorganised and simplified.
Instead of a two-tier system, the government wants to see a unitary (or one-tier) system of local government. In effect that would mean a smaller number of councils (two or maybe three across the York and North Yorkshire geography) that would each provide all services to the citizens in their boundaries.
The Minister's vision is that these councils would be new organisations, each serving a optimum population area of around 400,000 people.
On 9 October, the government wrote to all councils in the North Yorkshire and York area and invited them to put forward proposals for local government reform on unitary lines.
This is a big change that will affect the lives of more than 800,000 citizens - so it is vital to get change right.
Is change necessary?
The leaders of six district and borough councils wrote to the Government expressing the view that now is not the right time for local government reorganisation, due to the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is clearly something the Government has sympathy with, given that the Secretary of State has stalled plans for reorganisation in other parts of the country.
However, the Government has now written to all councils in North Yorkshire and York, inviting them to submit outline proposals for local government reorganisation by November 9 and full proposals by 9 December.
North Yorkshire County Council has indicated it intends to submit a proposal to government for a 'mega-council', covering the whole of the North Yorkshire area. If that happens, and it is the only proposal submitted, government will consider that proposal. The Leaders of the six district and borough councils do not believe that a mega-council is in the best interests of our citizens, communities or economy, so there is no option but to offer a better alternative.
Has this been considered before?
This is not the first time that simplifying local government has been considered. Back in 2007, North Yorkshire County Council put forward a bid to merge the county and district councils into one mega-council.
That bid failed because the government thought a county-wide unitary authority may have difficulties representing its electorate, would be seen as remote by most of its citizens, and the arrangements to try to introduce localism over such a large geography were overly complicated and unworkable.
The County Council is planning to put a bid in to government to do the same again. That might - on the surface - seem like the quickest, simplest thing to do. But we do not believe that is the right course of action. Times have changed, and we need a local government system that looks to the future, not the past.
What are the Leaders of the district and borough councils proposing?
The Leaders of six district and borough councils in North Yorkshire (Craven, Harrogate, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Selby and Scarborough) have come together to create a new, fresh bid for local government reorganisation. Our bid will be based on a one-tier system, because that is the only model government will accept. But it will be a bid that puts citizens - not structures - first.
Our bid will focus on strengthening our local services, invigorating our local economy and protecting local democracy.
To find out more about our bid, click here.
What happens next?
If we DON'T put forward a model for reorganisation, we could find ourselves forced into a system of local government that is too big and too remote to meet people's needs.
If we DO put forward our model for reorganisation and government supports it, it will open the door to a possible devolution deal for our area. That would mean more powers to decide things at local level and more investment into roads, housing and a greener economy.
In November, North Yorkshire County Council decided to put forward its mega-council bid to government. The councillors in six district and borough councils decide to submit the alternative east/west proposal. Both proposals will now be submitted to government on 9 November 2020, with full proposals by 9 December 2020.
Let's take this opportunity to get change right.
The Minister has made it clear that the government sees unitary government in York and North Yorkshire as integral to the devolution and the"levelling up" agenda. So let's get it right.