Loyalty to our Local Community is Crucial :July 2006

The Council made an important decision, when it resolved not to proceed with outsourcing its Revenues and Benefits service to a partnership with Hambleton at its meeting of September 7th. This followed the receipt of a Consultant's Report recommending against the proposed partnership. The consultant considered various matters, including costs and the administrative and managerial risks involved.

The proposed partnership was expected to yield savings of 65,000 per annum. However, this takes no account of the total set up costs of about a million pounds, which included a government bribe of 685,000 and Ryedale's' contribution of 150,000.. In other words it would have taken up to three years to recover Ryedale's contribution.

The consultant evaluated an in-house option and reported: "Detailed work has not been undertaken on this option, but a similar level of annual savings to that achievable by the Partnership for Ryedale of 65,000 should be achievable." The start up costs is minimal.

Hambleton were insisting that Ryedale should use their system in its entirety, as they wanted the partnership to be entirely on their terms - in spite of a previous consultant advising that the proposed new system should incorporate some of Ryedale's systems. So the project was a thinly disguised take over bid by Hambleton.

I have opposed the partnership from its inception because I believe in local control of local services, and the proposed partnership seemed to make no business sense, nor would it have resulted in any improvement on the existing service.

So, why has this saga gone on for so long - in spite of all the evidence and questions which suggested the "partnership" was not a good idea? In my view, there are two reasons.

The first is local politics, which does not necessarily represent the best interests of the Ryedale community. Several councillors seem to take the view that outsourcing work to "partnerships" will automatically produce economies of scale which will improve the quality of local services and cut the Council Tax. That is why, in this case, they ignored the extravagant set up costs, the loss of local control, the inconvenience to customers and the knock-on impact on Ryedale's office and services, and refused to even consider the more economical in-house option until the very last moment.

The second reason is national politics. As mentioned in many previous articles, the Labour government and their Whitehall mandarins have never understood the countryside. For them, local democracy, particularly in the countryside, is an unnecessary inconvenience, and it is much easier for central government to control in infinite detail what goes on in a few big authorities than to regulate many diverse local councils. They dare not say this openly, in case they get accused of being anti-democratic control freaks, because that is exactly what they are. So they use more subtle and devious methods to encourage rural districts to merge, with the ultimate aim of doing away with our historic shire counties altogether. The first step along this road is to persuade them to merge their services into "partnerships". That is why Ryedale was offered the 685,000 grant (I would call it a bribe) to cover most of the start up costs.

Merged services are obviously designed to lead to merged districts, and it should be no surprise, that we were told that the intention was that other districts would join the Revenues and Benefits partnership, once Ryedale and Hambleton had completed it. Greater Scarborough here we come!

There are officers and members at Ryedale who understand this, but were nevertheless prepared to support the proposed partnership. In their view, Whitehall is all powerful, and the march of centralisation and regionalisation is inexorable and inescapable. For them, resistance is futile, and we should simply roll over and do what government wants.

I have never accepted this view. If the government wants to do away with local democracy, let them say so openly, and then it can become an election issue. Until they do so, we should put the interests of our local community above the devious machinations of Whitehall. Government policy is notoriously unsettled anyway. It varies with every change of government minister, and devolution of local decision making is still a live political issue. So progress towards the corporate state is neither inexorable nor inevitable. Ryedale is a local community with its own distinct identity. So, we should do everything we can that the law allows to show our loyalty to our community, and resist every attempt from outside to break us up or take us over.

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