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MPs unite against single council plans

[Wednesday 06 June 2007]
COUNCIL SERVICES
MPs fear for local services

ALL seven MPs from across North Yorkshire have united in their opposition to plans for a single unitary council covering the whole of the county - and the move comes hot on the heels of a MORI survey that found little public support for the proposals.

Members of Parliament from constituencies as far apart as Skipton and Scarborough - and from all three main political parties - support the North Yorkshire District Council Network's belief that restructuring eight councils into a single unitary authority will create a body too big to deliver local services people expect.

The proposals are being driven forward by North Yorkshire County Council which was recently given the go-ahead by Ministers to explore the plans further. Critics have warned that rural areas such as the Yorkshire Dales would not be well served by such a large and distant council.

The MP's say that one council serving a geographic area of 3103 square miles with its extremes of urban, rural and deeply rural communities will not be able to cater for the county's diverse local needs. And it will create a rigid council not a flexible one.

William Hague, MP for Richmondshire, and David Curry, MP for Skipton and Ripon - himself a former Local Government Minister - and Phil Willis, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough and former Leader of Harrogate Borough Council, have joined other MPs in lobbying to leave the county's current local government structure in place.

They want the district councils of Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Selby and Scarborough and the county council to be allowed to continue their work to improve the two-tier system - work which is already well underway.

"If nothing else will persuade the Government that this is not a good idea, then the sheer size of the proposed unitary council in relation to the huge diversity and sparsity of North Yorkshire should do it," said Mr Curry

"We will be bringing a map with us to the House of Commons on June 6 which shows how local government would look if North Yorkshire's 3,000 square miles were transported to the south. The area would stretch from Epping Forest to Epsom and from Wycombe to Wealden - covering 76 local authorities and serving about 12 million residents.

"Under the unitary proposals this same area in North Yorkshire would have just one council serving nearly half a million. Each of the 144 councillors would be expected to serve 4300 constituents. It just doesn't add up and can we really call it devolution."

We are united in our belief that this bid should be thrown out

David Curry - Skipton & Ripon MP

Phil Willis said the county council's projected costs and savings were also cause for concern. "We believe that the independent critique of those costs give a very plausible counter arithmetic which shows much higher transitional costs and puts doubt on whether the savings the county council say they can achieve will ever actually materialise.

"We are also concerned that if the county does end up with a single unitary council it will seriously compromise the coherence of a future Leeds City Region.

"Places like York, Craven and Harrogate should not become limbs of North Yorkshire but need their own representation and decision making bodies in order to participate fully in the Leeds City Region and other councils should have the freedom to look north to Teesside."

Mr Curry added: "Finally, there are the particular interests of settlements in North Yorkshire - Harrogate with its Conference Centre and Scarborough with its Renaissance project are two particular cases in point. The district councils use their discretionary expenditure in order to promote economic development and regeneration. It is difficult to see how these volumes could be continued in a unitary council levying a common level of council tax.

"We are united in our belief that this bid should be thrown out - it is not often that an issue gets cross party support but we all believe that the current system should remain intact but with better partnership working."

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