The new Northern councils, and what to expect in the 2023 local elections
British politics has undergone some remarkable changes since last year’s local elections, with three different Prime Ministers setting out their visions to the country with new objectives for Government, as well as a new Monarch acceding to the throne.
The North is also gearing up for some big changes to some of its local authorities. As well as looking ahead to the local elections, we’ve got to the bottom of what these changes mean for our clients.
Local government changes: What are they, and why are they happening?
From 1 April 2023, North Yorkshire and Cumbria will undergo structural changes to how their local authorities are organised.
The changes we’re about to see are by no means the first. The current process of structural realignment of local government in England began in 2019, with the initial effort being primarily concentrated in the South. Since then, several unitary authorities have absorbed the remits and responsibilities of smaller district councils, creating larger and more centralised local authorities as a result.
Why are the changes happening? In 2020, the Government said “unitary councils can facilitate more integrated decision-making, better service delivery, greater local accountability and empowered local communities”. Similar to changes made in Northumberland and Durham, North Yorkshire and Cumbria will undergo the same process with district councils set to transfer their existing powers and services to larger unitary authorities.
What are the changes? In North Yorkshire, the seven existing district and borough councils will merge with the county council – creating a new North Yorkshire Council. This means that Scarborough, Ryedale, Hambleton, Selby, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Craven district councils will cease to exist with their current services transferred to the new, larger North Yorkshire authority. The Council isn’t due to hold another district wide election until 2027, but the slim Conservative majority is gradually being reduced through by-election losses. As a result of the loss of district councils, the number of elected members county-wide will be significantly reduced with North Yorkshire’s 90-strong membership unchanged.
Similarly, in Cumbria, two new unitary authorities will be set up – Cumberland Council, which absorbs the Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland district councils, and Westmorland & Furness Council which absorbs the Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland district councils.
Most services and their associated officers in the existing district councils will move to the reorganised authorities. Executive figures for the district councils, such as CEOs, have had their roles relinquished as those councils cease operation.
The changes also contain implications for the future of devolution. Following the local government reform, proposals were agreed to give York and North Yorkshire devolved powers with a new combined authority and Metro Mayor, the latter of which is currently envisaged to have its inaugural election in May 2024.
In Cumbria, discussions with Government are “ongoing” in terms of establishing what a devolution deal for the region could look like. However, it looks likely that Cumbria could also be looking at electing its first Metro Mayor very soon.
2023 local elections: The North’s key battlegrounds
Analysis from the New Statesman shows that if a general election were to be called today, the Labour party would win a substantial majority with their first victory since the 2005 general election. They will likely perform well in the local elections too, but it becomes more complicated once you bring local concerns into the mix. People vote differently at local elections, with candidates also preferring to focus on separate and specific local issues and concerns.
In terms of the North, we’ve picked out several local authorities that we think are the ones to watch in 2023, as well as highlighting region-wide trends to be aware of we go into the elections.
The general picture across Yorkshire is an interesting one, albeit likely to be largely the same as last year’s results. Calderdale Council is one of particular interest, where the governing majority is slim as the authority prepares to adopt its plans for future development in the Calderdale Local Plan.
Across the Pennines, Bolton and Stockport currently sit in the no overall control camp, where there is no clear governing party and all will be up for grabs in this year’s elections. Similarly, stretching into Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region – Burnley, Hyndburn, West Lancashire and Wirral Councils are in no overall control. Expect some competitive campaigning in these areas we go into the local elections.
On a wider note, we expect the Greens to enjoy further success as they build their presence in several Northern Councils following a successful set of elections for the party last time round.
At Social, we’re committed to supporting clients to engage with local authority leadership, particularly as many undergo a series of changes in how they are organised, as well as building relationships with newly elected members.
Get in touch
If you’d like to know more about the changes to local government and how they impact your work or projects, as well as the upcoming local elections, please get in touch with Brandon Henderson or Laura Pinder at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.