From Councillor Paul Andrews (Malton Ward)



2 The Beeches, Great Habton

York YO17 6RS

Telephone 01653-669023

Internet:   www.paul-andrews.net

E-mail: paul@sail-apollo.fsnet.co.uk

6th February 2007


Dear Mrs. Kelly,


White Paper “Strong and Prosperous Communities”: Application by North Yorkshire County Council for Unitary Status.


I am a District Councillor of Ryedale District Council. I understand a joint response has been made by the District Councils, but you may find it helpful to have the personal view of an ordinary district councillor on this matter.


The last time there was a reorganisation in North Yorkshire (1996), it cost the local taxpayer £4M, and the result benefited nobody: there was no reduction in Council Tax nor any appreciable improvement in service anywhere within the former boundaries of the County. I worked as a solicitor in local government for 23 years starting in 1972. I have seen several major reorganisations, but I have never yet known one that ended up with the rate payers paying less for the same service.


The County Council reckon that it can save £14M  if their proposals go ahead. Frankly, I think this is absolute nonsense. It would mean cutting the revenue budgets of each of the seven districts by an average of £2M per annum. It is appreciated that some district councils have bigger budgets than others. For example, Ryedales’ annual revenue budget is about £7.5M. If Ryedale’s budget were cut by, say, £1M (assuming that greater savings are made from councils with bigger budgets like Scarborough and Harrogate), this could not be achieved without substantial service cuts and a considerable number of redundancies.


North Yorkshire County Council already has a reputation for being remote from the customer. They are difficult to get hold of, and take a long time to reply to letters. This is particularly apparent from the way elderly people are treated by North Yorkshire Social Services. I can provide an example of this on a confidential basis. 


Remote County Highways can also show a lack of concern for local opinion. In one case it took them 3 years (after a village had raised its share of the cost at their request) to get round to carrying out some very simple traffic calming measures there.


County’s remoteness is also apparent from the way County Highways deal with planning applications. As a member of Ryedale’s Planning Committee, the reaction of North Yorkshire to some planning applications has made me despair. There have been several matters where members would have expected County to intervene and recommend refusal – including a few cases where applications have been refused on highways grounds in the past. I worked for Ryedale for 8 years and have been a councillor for nearly four. During all of that time, I cannot recall a single planning appeal in which the County Council supported the Council’s case. This contrasts with another authority in the South West, where the County supported the District in over 50% of cases, while I was working there. The only explanation for this discrepancy I can think of is that one way of saving money is to avoid having staff time tied up in preparing and dealing with planning appeals and enquiries. So again, I believe this is another example of the way North Yorkshire is inclined to save money by providing an inferior and unsatisfactory level of  service.


North Yorkshire should put its own house in order before it tries something new.


In these circumstances, it would seem difficult to justify the creation of such a vast and overwieldy unitary authority in the context of the White Paper: “Strong and Prosperous Communities”.


The title of the White Paper would seem to be the key to understanding it.The White Paper does not presage a root and branch restructuring of local government in the countryside, as will be seen.


The purpose of the White Paper is to create “strong and prosperous communities” mainly by involving the public in the local government process. That is why there is so much emphasis on involving the local community in decision making.


The intention is that, if every Council, statutory body, voluntary organisation and private enterprise representative body works together “in partnership” under a Local Area Agreement, people will feel more involved in “the community” and have a greater awareness and sense of ownership of Council services.


Chapter 8 demonstrates how important this is in the fight against terrorism.  In that chapter, reference is made specifically to “9/11”, the “disturbances in some Northern cities in 2001”and the July London bomb.  The message is clear: these things are less likely to happen if all cultures and “ethnicities” feel they belong to the community for which the Council is responsible.


Looked at in this context, it is clear that the White Paper is mainly concerned with the cities and the conurbations – not rural areas like Ryedale or North Yorkshire. The kind of issues which the White Paper seeks to address are symptomatic of places where individual councillors represent sometimes more than 5,000 voters and voter turnout for local elections is low, crime drugs and unemployment are high, there are large numbers of “ethnicities” and a considerable “multicultural” element, schools perform badly, and Council estates are decaying, vandalised and badly managed. In short, the White Paper is primarily concerned with conurbations with large neglected inner city areas.


This is borne out by the highlighted examples which are peppered throughout the paper. Of these, 21 come from the mets, London Boroughs, or cities with huge conurbations which are not unitaries; 5 come from Shire County councils and only 2 from Shire Districts.


In most cases the message is the same: these are examples of how the local authority has  breathed life, prosperity, security and improvements into run down areas by getting local people involved in the local community – in other words, by making local government LESS and  not MORE remote from the communities it serves.


There is further evidence to show that the White Paper is primarily concerned with cities and conurbations. This concerns the way smaller authorities like Ryedale are categorically excluded from some of its main recommendations. So, Para. 3.26 makes it clear that small councils “with a reformed committee structure” like Ryedale’s are not required to adopt a cabinet structure, a directly elected leader or mayor. Similarly Para. 3.57 make it clear that only a “small” number of  Councils will be eligible to apply for unitary status..


The need to give people a feeling of belonging also explains why parish councils are promoted. Cities such as Liverpool and Leeds are, in effect, encouraged to set up new parishes or town councils in places like Toxteth, Knotty Ash and Garforth. This reverses the trend of a century, where, every time a town like Garforth was absorbed into a conurbation like Leeds, it automatically merged with the bigger authority and lost its council.


The White Paper regrettably shows some  evidence of a worrying and fundamental failure to understand the countryside and how it works.


There is, for example, the crazy comparison of Cumbria with Sheffield in Para. 3.51: could there ever be two places more unlike each other? The Shire County is condemned because of the multiplicity of Councils, councillors and civic leaders, all representing diverse and different communities. It just doesn’t seem to have crossed the minds of the authors that it could be just this multiplicity and diversity which provides the sense of belonging which one finds in rural communities, such as those in North Yorkshire, and which makes them so stable and crime-free in comparison with the insecurity of the inner city.


To summarise, it is true that local government in the countryside is referred to incidentally all through the White Paper. However, out of a document which is 160 pages long, there are less than 10 pages which deal directly with the countryside, and it is clear that its primary concern is with city government. It is therefore a mistake to treat the White Paper as a document which requires fundamental change in rural areas like North Yorkshire. It doesn’t.


I understand that, when the White Paper was first mooted, several of the larger and more urban Shire Districts (e.g. cities like Ipswich) started working towards unitary status, in the expectation that there would be a widespread local government reorganisation. When it turned out that this was unlikely, they asked if they could continue with the work they had started, and it is these authorities which were meant to be considered for unitary status – not rural counties like North Yorkshire - which were unlikely to meet the government’s criteria – or the February deadline (although North Yorkshire did achieve the deadline) !


Further, Paras 5.52 – 5.53 give District Councils like Ryedale “an essential role in place-shaping” and they are also said to be “essential for building strong links with local people, neighbourhoods and parish councils”. The LAA “must be flexible enough to accommodate district level priorities”.


So, in my view, North Yorkshire’s application for unitary status is clearly completely against the spirit, intentions and policy approach of the White Paper. It follows that, if the White Paper is used as a justification for making North Yorkshire a unitary authority, there could be grounds to justify challenging the decision in the High Court by judicial review.


Yours faithfully




Councillor Paul Andrews


The Right Hon. Ruth Kelly MP

Department of Communities and Local Government

6//B3 Elland House

Bressenden Place



The Department of Communities and Local Government

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