MORE than £25 million of taxpayers money could be saved annually by creating a single unitary authority spanning North Yorkshire’s existing boundaries, it has been claimed.

The estimated savings, which the county council’s leadership says would arise from opportunities to streamline council-owned properties and management, are some £11 million more a year than the authority predicted 13 years ago when its plan to create a unitary authority for the same area was rejected by the then Labour government.

The county authority has revealed the initial forecast savings figure, which it says is broadly in line with what Durham and Cornwall were able to achieve when those authorities became unitary, just two weeks after it emerged the government had announced local government reorganisation in the county was a pre-requisite of devolution.

Local government minister Simon Clarke has set a deadline of September for North Yorkshire’s district, borough and county councils and City of York Council to submit proposals.

While City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council have both stated they want their boundaries to remain the same, many of the district and borough councils have signalled opposition to those plans, citing fears over a loss in local representation and a decrease in local accountability.

The second-tier councils have formed a coalition bankrolled by a £175,000 “fighting fund” to pay consultants to come up with alternative proposals to York and North Yorkshire councils.

Although the leaders of most of the councils have stated changes will be made whether they like them or not, some councils are understood to be preparing to mount as fierce a resistance as possible to the governments’ demand and ones with smaller populations are concerned they will be left with a vastly weakened voice.

To prepare its case, North Yorkshire council said it was talking to unitary councils serving similar populations to North Yorkshire’ 602,000, in similarly rural places, such as Cornwall, Durham and Northumberland, to find how it could best use taxpayers’ money in such a system.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les said: “If you cut North Yorkshire in half you are still left with two big halves because you have got super-sparse areas with national parks in them. You have got half the population trying to pull together a critical mass of services to deliver to still quite large and remote areas. That is a massive challenge and a big risk in terms of quality of services that you will deliver.

The county council says the savings for a single authority for the county would help protect and ensure it delivers good value for money, and that savings would be significantly reduced with more than one unitary authority.

In addition, it argues breaking up the county and York would lead to maximum transition costs and disruption to services.

When asked if it would spend taxpayers’ money on consultants, a county council spokesman said it would only use them to verify its financial claims.

The county council says it “managed to shrink the size of the county during Covid by finding a new way of working”, and in its unitary authority plan more decision making could be pushed down to the local constituency committees, featuring up to 26 elected members.

A working group at the county council has discussed doubling the number of councillors to 144 - two per division - in a unitary authority, which leaders believe could be acceptable for a transition period before elected members are cut to about 100.

Other features of the one North Yorkshire unitary authority could include having six local, and one central more strategic planning committee, similar to Durham’s planning system.

Cllr Les, who has called for “competing not hostile proposals” following acrimony between councils when it last tried to form a unitary authority, said: “If we were to devolve decision making to area committees I can’t see that would be any more detrimental to local representation than district council planning committees.”