Image Credit: JThomas
On 21 July, the government announced that the two-tier council system in North Yorkshire would be abolished and replaced with a unitary system. This will mean that a singular council will be responsible for all the local government services provided. It will materialise as the abolition of district councils in the county, and the election of a single North Yorkshire County council in 2023. The York City Council will remain as a unitary authority and will not be abolished or included in the new council.
As part of the consultation, the government considered a second proposal which would abolish the York City Council, as well as the district councils, and create two unitary authorities which would cover East and West North Yorkshire respectively. This was the favoured proposal by six of the seven district councils in North Yorkshire because of the size of North Yorkshire. However, it was rejected by the government, who said that it would not improve services provided by councils.
Unitary authorities have already been introduced in Buckinghamshire and alongside the announcement for North Yorkshire, the government confirmed that Somerset and Cumbria would also have new unitary authorities. This is another attempt by a government to tinker with the structure of local government, in order to make it a more efficient system. Whilst it is possible that these changes could help services in North Yorkshire be delivered more consistently across the county, as currently there remains a postcode lottery within the North Yorkshire over investment in the local area, it could also mean that the entire system becomes weaker.
There are very few council leaders in North Yorkshire who support this plan, most see it as a way of reducing the need by the government to invest in northern councils. They also believe that having a singular, very large, council covering the entire county will mean that services are not delivered with residents in mind. Across North Yorkshire there are considerable variances in demand and this new system may not be able to address that in such detail, which could ultimately disadvantage residents.
Furthermore, the exclusion of the York City Council from this plan concerns many. They believe that it could create a further split between the city and the rural surrounding areas. This would likely increase wealth disparities between the areas, which would translate into disparities between the quality of services in the two areas. This could ultimately hurt the government, who are working on their ‘Build Back Better’ initiative which focuses on levelling up the north of England to reduce the North-South divide.
This new system is thought to be simpler for residents, as they will not have to deal with two separate councils, both with different responsibilities. Instead, all services will be administered at a central point. Therefore, at elections, they will only be electing a councillor to one council and when addressing problems there will be a singular entry point. This will mean that the council system should become more efficient for citizens to understand and engage with.
This is a first step in local government reform which is ongoing by the government. Whether this change will be positive or negative for residents of North Yorkshire is yet to be understood, but it will certainly impact residents who are used to the two-council system.