Cllr Graham Swift answers your questions on Local Government reorganisation

Background – a very short summary
The government continue to devolve responsibilities to local areas, as seen in Manchester, Birmingham and more recently West Yorkshire where the government commits large funds for regional infrastructure and economic development managed under the auspice of an elected Mayor. This “devolution” model will be funded by central government and will bring £25MM to North Yorkshire, annually, for 30 years.
This is called the “gainshare”. In introducing a new tier of elected government (the devolved area of North Yorkshire) Westminster mandated the elimination of the current two tier council
structure of North Yorkshire County Council and District councils such as Harrogate Borough Council and insisted on the creation of a new unitary council to be formed in 2023, aligned to the abolition of the previous two tier structure. The work to implement this is ongoing, with all councils involved in the implementation workstreams.

Questions from DRA residents:

What are the estimated costs of the move to unitary authority and how
will it be paid for?
The government approved the new unitary authority vision presented by NYCC
which promised considerable savings – first, by merging councils together and
subsequently by transformational change and improvement of services. The Total
base case financial benefits are annual and recurring savings of £51MM pa. To
implement these changes, they forecast one off costs of £33MM making this
proposal a financially very attractive solution, freeing up large sums to be reinvested
in services across North Yorkshire. The one-time costs will be funded from a
strategic reserve but will clearly be offset and repaid speedily.
What sort of representation will we have as residents of Harrogate?
Harrogate will continue to be split into wards or divisions with elected councillors
representing the interests of residents. The new council will have 90 councillors, 13
of whom will be urban councillors under the former Harrogate and Knaresborough
parliamentary constituency. These divisions will be made up of two current district
wards. Eg Harrogate Duchy and Coppice Valley are expected to become one larger
division, with one elected councillor.
There is also work being carried out to consider the creation of a Town Council for
Harrogate that might oversee essential areas of local governance.
Who will we have to contact about Harrogate related issues?
Your councillor will continue to represent residents and it is expected that an Area
Committee will be created, rather like NYCC currently operate, with accountability to
the electorate at regular, locally based meetings covering important, local issues.
Where will the head office be and what will become of the current
council offices in Harrogate?
It is currently open to speculation where the new head office will be. Clearly
Northallerton has a large base, and offers a central location across the county but it
is also most likely that there will be further consolidation in urban areas and
Harrogate’s civic office will be well utilised, reflecting that Harrogate is by some
distance the largest population and economic centre of the new North Yorkshire
Council. Most services will continue to be locally based and management will still
require local working locations.
What are the priorities for the new authority and where will they be
spending their money?
The merger of all 8 councils is expected to generate considerable cost savings,
estimated to be around £51MM annually. This will be utilised to offset huge
increases in expenditure, particularly in adult social care. However, this also provides
a one time opportunity to fund enhanced services for residents including investing in
leisure, health, town centre infrastructure and better access for all. The new, elected
council will need to speedily define their priorities and ensure that all communities
see the advantage of the funds saved. These priorities will be agreed by the newly
formed council.
Will we be electing new members of the new authority or will people be
transferred over into equivalent roles?
Elections in May 2022 will be for councillors that will become the new council in April
2023. The newly elected councillors will represent NYCC until April 2023. Between
May 2022 and April 2023 all councils will continue to operate, with a clear mandate
of managing a transition to close NYCC and HBC, and establish the new NYC on
April 2023.
Will there be job losses at the council?
I think it is realistic to expect significant reductions in staffing, particularly at the
senior levels. There are currently 8 CEOs and tens of directors across North
Yorkshire who will clearly not be required in a streamlined, singular council.
However, most employees working for councils do local, front line services which will
continue to be required. Grass cutting, bin emptying, leisure centre staffing, social
care, home visits and road cleansing for example are all large employment activities
and will continue at a local level. It is highly unlikely that these critical and local
services will see large job losses.
What will the effect be (if any) on the conference centre?
Harrogate Convention Centre plays an important role in attracting business visitors
and tourism to our town centre and district. This has been acknowledged in the
devolution settlement and devolution funding is already committed to ensuring that
the convention centre’s importance is retained. One genuine advantage of devolution
will be that HCC will more easily access government funding to continue its planned
investment upgrade and the devolution recommendations specifically include HCC
as a critical investment programme.

These remarks hopefully answer the key questions raised today but should residents
have further individual questions, your councillors are contactable on
[email protected]
[email protected]
and if you are interested in reading more about local government reform, the
following link provides a lot of detail:

Local Government Reform – a Q&A with Cllr Graham Swift