North Yorkshire Council ‘still feels detached’ one year on, says peer
Apr 2, 2024

North Yorkshire Council still feels “detached” from its residents one-year on from its launch, says a House of Lords peer.

The authority replaced the now defunct Harrogate Borough Council in April 2023 with the promise of making savings.

One year on from its launch, the Stray Ferret has looked at whether people feel the council has improved governance in the county.

Among those we spoke to was Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Liberal Democrat peer, who was highly critical of the move 12 months ago.

At the time, Lord Saltaire told the House of Lords that local democracy in North Yorkshire had been “destroyed” by devolution and described the introduction of a unitary authority as an “incoherent mess”.

He also criticised the number of councillors to residents, which he said made constituents feel detached from their local council.

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The Stray Ferret asked Lord Saltaire if he still stood by his criticisms 12 months on from the council’s launch.

He said he felt that people feel detached from their local authority and that councillors could not cope with the number of constituents within their divisions.

Lord Saltaire added that a district and county council model still worked, despite being criticised as “inefficient”.

He said:

“We still have county councils and district councils in some places. That in some ways is less efficient, but it does at least give people a connection.

“People do not feel any connection with their local authority.”

Taxi drivers ‘pulling their hair out’

Since its launch the changes in governance in the Harrogate district have been far reaching. Among the most controversial has been taxi licensing.

Under the authority’s harmonisation agenda, the zone which taxis could operate in was widened to county-wide. Previously, cabbies could only trade within the Harrogate district.

However, the council overhauled its licensing policy so that taxis can now operate anywhere in North Yorkshire.

In theory, the move would allow drivers to pick up business across the county.

Photo of Ripon taxi driver Richard Fieldman

Richard Fieldman, who runs his taxi in Ripon.

The council argued that the move would provide “flexibility to operate across the county, encouraging environmental efficiencies and creating a wider distribution of wheelchair-accessible vehicles”.

But, Richard Fieldman, who has operated his cab in Ripon for three decades, said he did not feel the move had improved the trade.

He told the Stray Ferret:

“I cant comment on what is going on in other areas

“But the drivers in Harrogate are pulling their hair out. They [the council] do not want to know. We have been told that they are on the verge of sending out a new consultation.

“I have encouraged all the drivers to respond to that consultation.”

The Stray Ferret has approached North Yorkshire Council for a response and asked how it feels governance has been improved in the county.

Council a ‘watershed’ for public services

At the time of its launch, Cllr Carl Les, the Conservative leader of the council, said the move was a “watershed” for how public services could be delivered to the county’s residents.

Meanwhile, Richard Flinton, chief executive of the authority, said in March last year that “millions” would be saved from the new council.

He said:

“Millions of pounds in savings that will be made by streamlining operations and the delivery of services could not have come at a more important time.

“We are faced with major financial pressures and the new council will need to drive the transformation of services at pace, taking every opportunity to support green economic growth and working with communities and partners to ensure the money of North Yorkshire’s taxpayers is used most effectively.

“Public services could have been placed under even greater pressure without the move to bring together eight councils into one organisation to create the new North Yorkshire Council.

“There is still a lot of work to do to ensure we are able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to bring the most cost-effective way of delivering services for North Yorkshire’s taxpayers, but I am confident that this can be achieved with the experience, expertise and talent we will have available in the new council.”