Tuesday 01st December 2020,
North Yorks Enquirer

DEVO – Unitary Council Turf Wars

DEVO – Unitary Council Turf Wars

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, watching the jockeying and horse-trading for power, positions and pensions arising from the forthcoming changes in local government arrangements.

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The buzz-word on everybody’s lips at present, at least in Council circles, is DEVO (short for DEVOLUTION) – the most dramatic change in local government arrangements since the Local Government Act 1972 came into force on 1st April (April Fools’ Day) 1974.

Council Leaders throughout North Yorkshire have been aware for some time that it is the government’s intention to abolish the ‘middle tier’ (second tier – i.e. District and Borough) Councils, replacing them and ‘first tier’ County Councils with so-called Unitary Authorities.

Regular readers will recall that, in my article “ARGOS: The Fatal Omissions” (17/07/20), I revealed that SBC Leader Councillor Steve SIDDONS had written to Councillors on 9th July 2020, outlining the government’s intentions.

Since then the turf wars have escalated; everyone wants to be ‘King of the Castle’.

Town and Parish Councils throughout the Borough have received lobbying letters from both NYCC Leader, County Councillor Carl LES [Con.], and SBC Leader Councillor, Steve SIDDONS [Lab.], which I present below for readers’ perusal:

Download the PDF file LEADERS'_Letters_on_DEVO.

Councillor SIDDONS has also been ploughing resources into the following appeal for support for his own breakaway version of DEVO:

Download the PDF file DEVO_Leaflet.

The ‘spin’ of that SIDDONS letter, in particular, has attracted widespread censure from opposition members, including allegations of bullying, misleading and ‘cheek’. The following examples are typical:

From: “Cllr.Clive Pearson” <Cllr.Clive.Pearson@scarborough.gov.uk>
Date: 6 August 2020 at 15:17:29 BST
To: “Cllr.Steve Siddons” <Cllr.Steve.Siddons@scarborough.gov.uk>
Cc: Councillors Email Group <CouncillorsDG@scarborough.gov.uk>
Subject: Unitary Bid

Dear Steve,

I cannot believe you.

You are taking the lead on the district county bid for unitary, of which I have no objections, but so far you have only been able to have a go at the County Council bid.

As you will be aware the county Council bid has not been published. So I am unable to see how you are as a Scarborough Borough Councillor and not a North Yorkshire County Councillor have got advanced knowledge of the bid.

As a North Yorkshire County Councillor I have been asked for my thoughts but only my thoughts about the bid. I have not been bullied into only going with the county bid. In fact the opposite due to the fact that I am a county councillor and a borough councillor. I am expected to look at both beds and maybe support both bids.

You as lead person on the district bid have now started to bully me into accepting the district bid over the county bed even though I do not know the contents of either.

At no time have I heard North Yorkshire county councillors knocking the district councillors bid but all I get from you is how bad a super council scheme that you think is going to be proposed by North Yorkshire county council would be. How you have the cheek to say that the North Yorkshire county Council bid should not even be presented to the government is beyond me. Very democratic.

You have now written to the parish councillors asking them to seek out their county councillors and lobby them strongly with their views. Should this have not said “seek out their county and borough councillors”. Better still would it not have been better for you to have written a letter to the parish councillors telling them of the likelihood of a unitary council and that you are taking the lead on the district bid and ask them to write back to you with their views.

At the moment we know nothing about the district bid so please do not have a “pop” at the county bid.  For all you know both bids could be very similar.

In the final paragraph from your letter to the Parish Council you say. “I look forward to hearing from you about these proposals”.  WHAT PROPOSALS?

All you have done is make the unitary bid into a political battle as always.

Regards

Clive

Councillor Clive G Pearson

Shadow Cabinet member for Inclusive Growth, SBC

Representing:

Danby & Mulgrave Ward, SBC
Eskvalley, NYCC
North York Moors National Park member

And:

From: Cllr.David Chance <Cllr.David.Chance@scarborough.gov.uk>
Sent: 31 July 2020 16:38
To: Mike Greene <Mike.Greene@scarborough.gov.uk>
Cc: Councillors Email Group <CouncillorsDG@scarborough.gov.uk>; Lisa Dixon <Lisa.Dixon@scarborough.gov.uk>; Nick Edwards <Nick.Edwards@scarborough.gov.uk>; Richard Bradley <Richard.Bradley@scarborough.gov.uk>
Subject: Re: Update on Local Government Reorganisation

Dear Mike,

I feel that I must take issue with you on a couple of issues an incorrect statements made by the leader and or yourself regarding this matter.

The County Council are not resubmitting or dusting off a failed bid. Nor are they putting in a bid for the County Council to become a Unitary Authority. They will however be submitting a new  proposal to Government for a unitary authority or authorities for North Yorkshire. The detail of which has yet to be decided.

I feel that I must also correct the Leaders Statement to Council in which he stated that the Minister had said that the optimum size for a Unitary Authority is 400,000 with a minimum floor of 300,000. This Statement is incorrect, and I refer you to the Ministers Statement in Parliament, in answer to Parliamentary questions.

https://members.parliament.uk/member/4494/writtenquestions#expand-1205660

What he clearly says is that the “…the population of which will depend on local circumstances but as a rule of thumb are expected to be substantially in excess of 300-400k“.

I would therefore ask that this campaign of misinformation to members ceases. Members are entitled to the true picture.

I note in the minutes of Cabinet, authority was given to yourself and the leader in respect of the submission of a bid from the District Councils.

Kindly confirm or otherwise whether the final submission has to be ratified by full Council under the terms of the Council’s Constitution.

Cllr David A Chance

Council Member for Mayfield Ward, Whitby
Scarborough Borough Council
Adventure House, Newholm, Whitby, YO21 3QY.
Tel: 01947 605376

Also of interest is the fact that, following a SBC Group Leaders’ ‘briefing’ organised by the Leader and presented by SBC CEO Mike GREENE, Councillor Mike COCKERILL [C.I.M.] prepared the following meeting notes:

LOCAL GOVERNMENT REORGANISATION and DEVOLUTION

I attended a Zoom meeting to allow Group Leaders to be brought up to date regarding Local Government Reorganisation and Devolution. Mike Greene, SBC Chief Executive, gave a presentation of the actions to date.

He provided information in regard to the stance being taken by NYCC that has been well publicised. He confirmed that the Government believed that the minimum size of a new Unitary Authority would not be less than 300,000, the optimum would be circa 400,000 but there was no upper limit. Consultants, KPMG, have jointly been engaged by the 7 District and Borough Councils within North Yorkshire, this doesn’t include the City of York Council.

Their brief is to put forward suggestions probably about 2 bids covering the whole of North Yorkshire and the City of York. York has not joined with this process as it wishes to stay as it is currently. We were informed that the Government consider the population of the City of York to be too small to work effectively.

Mike Greene is in the process of arranging Workshops for Councillors and businesses that he hopes they will start the week after next, i.e. w/c 17 August. SBC’s actions were supported by all Group Leaders and assurance was given that there would be consultation.

We were informed that across the County there are 346 councillors and 244 wards / divisions. It would seem likely that there will be a County wide bid, with or without the City of York, together with 2 bids with a split of the existing District and Borough Council areas and the City of York area.

The Council will apparently be providing a full Members’ Briefing in the next week or so, setting out all the latest nuanced information on DEVO.

Unfortunately, Councillor SIDDONS has performed his customary disappearing act (when the going gets tough?) and will be unable to attend, since he has taken another leave of absence at a most critical juncture:

And the Director of Legal & Democratic Services is on leave until 19th August 2020. So who is minding the store? Who is emptying the bins? Who is taking care of the laundry?

Financial Implications

I can confirm (from sources higher up the slippery pole) that North Yorkshire’s present overall total of 346 Councillors are likely to find themselves competing for something less than 100 seats – albeit with far more attractive Allowances than the present SBC Basic Allowance of £4,204.56 per annum (plus mileage and hospitality expenses). The sum of circa £20K-£25K has been mentioned. Historically, Group Leaders have received 1.5 times the Basic Allowance and Executive/Portfolio Holders 2 times the basic Allowance, with 4 times the basic Allowance for Leaders. Fill yer boots!

Is County Councillor Carl LES worth £100K per annum? Possibly.

Is Councillor Steve SIDDONS?

Of course, the present tally of nine CEOs (I include York), nine s.151 (Finance) Officers and nine Monitoring (Legal) Officers will also very likely be reduced to one of each.  (The present SBC ‘top three’ are on £112,892, £78,700 and  £78,700 per annum, respectively, plus the usual ‘enticements’).

The ‘lucky’ three statutory Officers of the new ‘Super-Unitary’ will, needless to say, command far higher salaries (plus perks, pensions and health care plans) than at present. The sums being bandied about fall in the £150K-£250K per annum range. Nice work if one can get it – whether or not one is capable of actually performing it.

I believe it is fair to say, therefore, that between now and late September (when the government is expecting firm proposals from North Yorkshire’s various Councils), there is going to be a great deal of legitimate lobbying – and less legitimate back-stabbing – as the usual suspects scrabble for ‘power’, ‘position’, ‘kudos’, salaries, pensions and other less overt benefits.

Of course, none of them could conceivably be accused of serving their own interests rather than ours. Not much . . .

Meanwhile, when the question arose regarding a £3M loan made by SBC to Cornwall Council (already a Unitary), it soon became apparent that the tail had been wagging the dog (again); Cabinet Portfolio Holder Tony RANDERSON [Lab.] knew nothing at all about it – and his glorious Leader Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.] was (how convenient) away from his desk. Councillors are now asking how many more of these in-and-out loan deals have been taking place – and at what risk? And to whose advantage?

So finally – and not before time – there is once again talk of a Leadership challenge at SBC. The only stumbling block appears to be the necessary consensus surrounding a potential replacement – if only on a ‘caretaker’ basis. Nominations on the back of a postage stamp, please. To my mind, there are only two credible candidates. Both have more sense than to grasp that poisoned chalice.

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