Reorganisation sparks council row

A bitter battle has broken out in the heart of the Conservative Group on Selby District Council over proposed local government reorganisation in North Yorkshire.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 10:48 am

The battle has seen the leader of the Conservative-run council Coun Mark Crane and deputy leader Coun Richard Musgrave support radically different plans for reorganisation.

Coun Crane has publically supported two new authorities based on an East-West district council split, while Coun Musgrave is backing a new unitary authority which merges North Yorkshire County Council with all the county’s district councils and the City of York Council.

This fundamental policy split has caused consternation both within the Conservative Group on the council and with opposition councillors in the Selby District.

Former chairman of Selby District Council and Tadcaster Coun Richard Sweeting (Con), commented: “I think it is completely wrong to be talking about local government reorganisation in the middle of this devastating global pandemic. People aren’t interested.

“People are lonely, people are grieving, businesses are struggling. These are the issues that matter. Selby residents will get fed up with us talking about county councils and district councils and who does what.

“Having said that, it is my personal view that the Conservative Group on the council shouldn’t be presenting different policies, which are at odds with each other, and that all Conservative councillors should be consulted before these policies are aired in public.

“There is a Conservative Group meeting next week to discuss this particular issue and I may well have more to say then, when all the facts emerge about exactly who supports what and who knew about Coun Musgrave’s letter before it was published.”

Another Selby Conservative councillor, who did not want to be named, said the different policies pursued by the group’s leader and deputy leader made the group “an absolute laughing stock, where the left hand doesn’t seem to know, or care, what the right hand is doing.”

Meanwhile Coun John McCartney (Independent) said he believed the split within the Conservative Group was driven by personal interest.

“All I know is that they appear to be taking sides along their own self-interested lines. Those who are just Selby District Councillors are opposed to their council being abolished and support the East West split, whilst those who are also on North Yorkshire County Council seem to be in favour of the unitary North Yorkshire proposal.”

The official Conservative Group policy was originally outlined by Coun Crane last year when, together with representatives from Craven, Harrogate, Richmondshire, Ryedale and Scarborough district councils, he submitted an outline bid to Government, arguing that an East-West model was the best way to reorganise local government in the region.

The East-West” model would see Craven, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Hambleton join together to form a unitary council in the West and Selby, City of York, Ryedale and Scarborough join together to form a unitary council in the East.

This outline bid was based on a KPMG research study, which concluded that the creation of two unitary authorities of balanced size would provide the strongest local leadership, the most effective services and the fairest democratic representation, as well as the most realistic savings for local taxpayers.

The bid argued that North Yorkshire County Council had been ruthlessly pursuing its ‘mega-council’ policy for reorganisation, but warned that many North Yorkshire residents and businesses were concerned about the county council’s proposal, which would create the largest unitary in England.

But it is precisely this “mega council” that Coun Musgrave has been lobbying for, writing to the Minister for Local Government Luke Hall, arguing that the county would be best served by merging the county council, the city of York Council and the seven other district councils.

In his letter to Mr Hall, Coun Musgrave said he was writing on behalf of other councillors in the Selby District, but, as Coun Sweeting has revealed, it is apparent that Coun Musgrave had not consulted all the members of his own Conservative Group, nor any other district councillors.