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City of York Council unitary authority - the right size for a people focused city

Published Thursday, 3 September 2020

City of York Council today (3 September) has shared details about why the existing Council structure and geography should remain delivering services to York‘s residents, businesses and communities.

The City of York represents a self-governing and historic city, with unique characteristics, from an innovative business community, to distinctly different geographies when compared to our more rural and coastal neighbouring district areas. With strong economic links to West Yorkshire, any changes to the council’s structures or boundaries would not effectively represent the more urban local communities across York.

With 210k residents, the City of York Council is the median average size unitary authority in England and the size of York’s population is set to increase to around 230k during the proposed local plan period. Of the 56 unitary authorities already established, nearly half have populations of less than 200k. As the major economic centre of the sub-region, York contributes a third (£6.35bn) of GVA across York and North Yorkshire, with Harrogate, the second highest GVA contributing nearly £2bn less.

There are two very distinct geographies in the county of North Yorkshire - largely urban York, and largely rural and coastal in surrounding districts. The economies are completely different. The simplest transition would be for a unitary authority to cover that area, rather than complicate geographies by including York. York has pockets of large inequalities. Enlarging York’s footprint to cover distinctly different areas will reduce the focus on the key challenges for our own unique areas, reducing our connection to local communities.

Lower council tax

  • York residents pay low council tax with the 7th lowest level of any unitary in England, and significantly lower than neighbouring councils.
  • Any merger with more expensive neighbouring authorities would require council tax levels to be harmonised across the new area. This would require either an increase in the amount York residents pay, to support services elsewhere, or create a funding gap if York’s residents paid the same as they currently do. This could result in service reductions or the need for future increases in tax.

The cost of change

  • The council has already reported a pressure of around £26m as a result of the response to Covid-19.
  • There is no suggestion that transition costs will be covered by Central Government. As a result, these additional costs, potentially tens of millions of pounds, would be an additional budget pressure, potentially adversely affecting service delivery.

Urban vs. rural and coastal

  • The two very different and distinct geographies of North Yorkshire – largely urban and largely rural and coastal – bring different and distinct opportunities and challenges.
  • York’s distinctive local business community has quickly adapted to the economic landscape post Covid-19. The council’s support for our businesses could be diluted if we were also supporting different rural and coastal economies which do not match York’s unique economic characteristics.
  • York has large pockets of inequalities. With statutory responsibilities for delivering children’s and adults ‘social care already resting with the City of York Council, minimising unnecessary disruption would ensure the impact of the pandemic can be managed and reduce the risk of services being diluted over a larger population with different needs.

Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council said:

“York has a successful track record in delivering value for money services which work to support some of our most vulnerable residents across the city.

"As a result of our close relationship with community groups and partners, we are able to quickly respond to residents’ needs, including providing early support to businesses and communities during the response to Covid-19.”

“Any devolution deal has to be right for York and be of direct benefit to our residents, communities and businesses, and that is why we are encouraging local residents, businesses and stakeholders to provide feedback on Devolution and local government reorganisation via Our Big Conversation (https://www.york.gov.uk/OurBigConversation). We will also be delivering an Our City to residents, in order to provide those without access to the internet the opportunity to have their say.”

“It is incredibly important that local residents, businesses and organisations have their say on these key issues, because the feedback we receive over the coming weeks will be crucial in informing and developing the Council’s final submission to the Government.”

Cllr Andy D’Agorne, Deputy Leader of City of York Council, added:

“Any change to the council in order to include a wider area would either increase the cost to residents, to get the same service, or stretch services and budgets further across a larger geographical rural and coastal area, thus making it harder to meet York’s own unique challenges.”

“In short, any change to the council boundaries would result in additional cost to residents. Instead, we believe proposals that cause as little disruption as possible to allow us to concentrate on serving communities at this critical time is the right way forward. For this reason, the best way to support strong recovery, secure devolution quickly, and support the Levelling-Up agenda in York and North Yorkshire, is with City of York continuing as a unitary authority.”