The Council should not accept this Bribe : 15 February 2006

Most people would have thought that, after the Government’s dismal failure to persuade people to set up Regional Assemblies, they might have abandoned the project altogether. Not at all.

Before the overwhelming “No” vote on Regionalisation by people in the North of England, the Government had set up a number of “steering” regional assemblies. Members of the “steering” assemblies were not elected, but appointed by District and County Councils within the Region. Because they are appointed in this way, there is a fair representation of country areas. This is better for the countryside than the proposed directly elected assemblies, which would have had an overwhelming majority representation from the cities and big towns. For example, the “Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Assembly” would have had just two members to represent the whole of North Yorkshire in an assembly of 30 members run by a cabinet of six members.

Anyone who knows anything about Cabinets or “executives” in Local Government will understand that all the important decisions are made by the “executive”, and that the other councillors have very little power or influence. It is a way of entrenching national politics into local politics. In the case of directly elected regional assemblies, this would secure the domination of town over country and extend the power and influence of Whitehall to interfere with rural affairs. So, six individuals would have had absolute control over the Region. Further, instead of power being handed down to the Regions, the Regional assemblies would have taken control of functions now carried out by Local Government.

As soon as Whitehall realised they could not achieve their aims through the ballot box, they resorted to behaving like gangsters - using more sinister skills: deception, deviousness, threats, and bribery – all within the law, the kind of strategy which would go down well in a third world country, but not one within the spirit, scope or tradition of our constitution or British democracy.

So the “steering” assemblies have never been disbanded. They remain in place, and, although they are not elected, they have been given statutory powers which have been taken from elected local government. For example,in the past, the County Structure Plan has been the principle document which determines all Town and Country Planning Issues in North Yorkshire, and “Regional Guidance” was issued on a very limited basis. This has now changed. the preparation of County-wide “Structure Plans” is no longer the responsibility of County councils, but is to be carried out by the unelected Regional Assembly, and Regional Guidance is coming out in volumes. It is now the County Council which has only limited policy making powers.

As the Regional office is in Leeds, it goes without saying that the product of this process is going to be produced by professionals who may not understand countryside issues.

The fact that Regionalisation was (and still is) an attempt to subordinate the countryside to the cities and towns is obvious from the way the Government decided, as part of the package, to abolish rural shire counties and get district councils to merge into bigger authorities – mainly based on towns. So, the Government has encouraged Councils to outsource services to joint-boards or “partnerships”. This process is continuing. , and, as an example we have the nonsense of the proposed set up of a Revenues and Benefits partnership to serve both Ryedale and Hambleton.

The estimated cost of setting up this partnership is £960,000. No doubt this may save many hundreds of thousands of pounds over a long period. However, the anticipated “savings” that will be produced in the first few years is about £25,000 per annum. Sounds odd, doesn’t it: we pay £960,000 : Ryedale makes £25,000 a year from this “investment” – and even this is not guaranteed! And don’t we all know how IT development costs escalate – particularly, when a new system is being developed?

So, where is the business sense in this? Well, the answer is that Central Government will contribute, through its agencies, grants of £685,000, leaving the remaining £275,000 to be shared between Ryedale and Hambleton. And, in spite of the huge cost, the £25,000 savings will qualify as “Gerschon savings” under Government accountancy rules, and Ryedale will get credit for this. The fact that the expenditure of so much public money makes no business sense is simply not taken into account – Ryedale and Hambleton will actually get credit for wasting nearly a million pounds of public money.

The fact that most of this money is government grant does not mean that it is not public money. So why is it important to throw away such vast sums of money for no real financial benefit? The Government is not stupid. The £685,000 grant is a huge bribe to persuade two small country authorities to lose their separate identity, so that merger eventually becomes inevitable. And it will not stop with Ryedale and Hambleton. If the costs of the project escalate – as IT development costs usually do, other authorities will be asked to help – and Ryedale and Hambleton will both end up being absorbed into Scarborough

Bribes like this should never be accepted. This project and all others like it are Trojan horses and should simply not go ahead.

Privacy Policy