Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this order was laid before this House on 24 January 2022. The other place approved it on 22 February 2022. If approved by this House and made, it will implement a locally led proposal submitted by North Yorkshire County Council for a single unitary council for the whole of North Yorkshire county.
In my introductory words for the Cumbria order, I set out the Government’s views on the benefits of strong local leadership. The order will establish for the people of North Yorkshire a new single unitary council. Implementing this proposal and establishing this unitary authority will enable stronger leadership and far greater engagement both at the strategic level and with its communities at the most local level. The order will also pave the way, as envisaged in the levelling-up White Paper, for a significant devolution deal involving a directly elected mayor for North Yorkshire together with York.
I set out the full detail of the process for all three areas undergoing unitarisation in my previous speech regarding Cumbria. I will not repeat the detail of the invitation, the criteria or the dates of the statutory consultation here, but will highlight the matters specific to North Yorkshire. When issuing the invitation to the principal councils to submit proposals for unitary local government, the then Secretary of State, my right honourable friend the Member for Newark, Robert Jenrick, invited City of York Council alongside North Yorkshire County Council and its seven district councils. Two locally led proposals for local government reorganisation in North Yorkshire were received, one for a single unitary council and one for two unitary councils.
Turning now to the responses to the statutory consultation in North Yorkshire, we received almost 4,300 responses on the two proposals. Some 3,600 responses, 84% of the total, were from residents living in the area affected and 53% of these were in favour of the single unitary council. In addition, 52% of business respondents supported the single unitary council proposal, along with the majority of public sector partners, including 68% of the health organisations which responded, nine out of 12 education organisations and police and fire organisations.
Noble Lords will recall that my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State announced his decision on the proposals. A Written Ministerial Statement was made on 21 July 2021, which I repeated in this House. In reaching this decision, my right honourable friend made a balanced judgment, assessing both proposals against the three criteria to which I have referred. He also had regard to all representations received, including responses to the consultation, and all other relevant information available to him. He concluded that the two unitary councils proposal did not meet the criterion of improving local government and service delivery across the area or the credible geography criterion. He concluded that the single unitary council proposal for North Yorkshire met all three criteria.
Indeed, the Government believe there is a powerful case for implementing this locally led proposal for change. It will improve local government by enhancing social care and safeguarding services through closer connection with related services such as housing, leisure and benefits. It will improve local government by offering opportunities for improved strategic decision-making in such areas as housing, planning and transport. It will provide improvements to local partnerships working with other public sector bodies and generate savings, estimated by the county council to be £31.9 million per annum. It will preserve service delivery over a county-wide area that has an established local identity and which is easily understood by residents and will provide a single point of contact so that residents, businesses and local communities will be able to access all council services from one place. If noble Lords approve this order, there will be from 1 April 2023 a single unitary council for North Yorkshire delivering the improvements I have just outlined.
We have prepared this order in constructive and collaborative discussion with all the councils concerned and I take this opportunity to thank everybody involved in this process. Our discussions with the councils have included discussing the transitional and electoral arrangements, which are key to how the councils will drive forward implementation. Where there has been unanimous agreement between all the councils, we have adopted their preferred approach. There were some differences in views and, where they have existed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has considered all the differing views and reached a decision accordingly.
Turning now to the detail of the order, I will highlight the key provisions. The order provides that on 1 April 2023 the districts of Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby will be abolished. The councils of those districts will be wound up and dissolved. In their place, their functions will be transferred to the new unitary North Yorkshire council. The order also provides for appropriate transitional arrangements. These include that in May 2022 there will be elections for the new unitary council, which will assume full powers from 1 April 2023; these elections will be on the basis of a 90-member authority with 88 single-member electoral divisions and one two-member division. Subsequent elections to the unitary council will be in May 2027 and every four years thereafter. We expect that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England will undertake a full electoral review before the May 2027 elections. Parish council elections due in May 2023 and May 2024 will be brought forward to May 2022 to align with the unitary council electoral cycle. There will be a duty to be placed on all existing councils to co-operate during the transitional period until 1 April 2023.
As I set out in the previous debate, if this order is approved and made, we intend to issue a direction. This direction would ensure the new unitary council has appropriate oversight of the commitments that its predecessor councils may enter into during the transitional period and which the new unitary council will take on from 1 April 2023. Before issuing any such direction, we will invite councils’ views on a draft.
Finally, with sincere apologies, I must draw noble Lords’ attention to the correction slip issued to correct three minor errors in Schedule 1 to the draft order. These corrections remove an extraneous “and” between Harrogate Fairfax and Harrogate Starbeck wards, correct a misspelling of the name of Byram and Brotherton ward, and ensure that the Mid Craven electoral division is in the correct alphabetical order. We are very sorry for these minor errors in the original text of the draft order.
In conclusion, through this order, we are seeking to replace the existing local government structures which were set up in 1974 in North Yorkshire with a new council that will be able to deliver high-quality, sustainable local services for the people of North Yorkshire. This council will be able to provide stronger and more effective leadership at both the strategic and most local levels. It will open the way, with the city of York, for a significant devolution deal referred to in our levelling-up White Paper. I commend the order to the Committee and once again apologise for those minor errors. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for racing through the provisions of this order. I have sat through three SIs this afternoon and it is a matter of regret that each of them has had to have a minor correction. Perhaps if we spent a little longer preparing the SIs before we brought them before the House, we would save all departments some time.
I am possibly in a minority of one, but I am afraid that I am very wedded to the two-tier system. It has served extremely well. My connection to North Yorkshire goes back years. I grew up in an area that, until 1974, represented on my western flank North Yorkshire, on my eastern flank County Durham and, to the north-west, Cumberland. I think that people appreciated and felt wedded to those areas. I went to school in what was then Harrogate, West Yorkshire, and is now Harrogate, North Yorkshire. One begins to see how confusing it becomes with all these changes, and I believe that there is such a thing as voter fatigue.
I was very fortunate to be returned a number of times—I think, four. I served 18 years for two separate constituencies in North Yorkshire. I want to pay tribute to one of my predecessors, my noble friend Lord Jopling, who looked after me during one of the elections. I think we had some fun at the time, so I hope that continues in elections for constituencies. I also stood in Cumbria in 1987, where again my noble friend was my neighbour, took me under his wing and saved me from some of the errors that I might otherwise have made—which I hope he will not remember and repeat during this debate.
According to Wikipedia, there are 159 district council wards across North Yorkshire. That goes to the rurality of what is the largest, most rural and most sparsely populated county in the country. This has led me to believe that successive Governments—I cannot accuse one particular Government—have simply failed to understand how to deliver public services effectively in rural areas. I do some outside work with the Dispensing Doctors’ Association, as declared in the register of interests. Its headquarters is in Kirkbymoorside, which was in my constituency for the last five years that I was in the other place. Dispensing doctors come into their own particularly in rural areas where there is no community pharmacy. That shows to me the lack of understanding of one particular department of how difficult it is to deliver health services in this regard. We are building bigger hospitals that are further away and more difficult for patients to get to.
I turn to the subject of the orders presented to us by my noble friend. If I understand correctly, we are going to have a situation created from 2023 whereby we have a unitary authority for North Yorkshire. At some undetermined time in the future, it will then be possible to have a metro mayor—and I would like to understand whether the mayor will cover the city of York alone or is intended to cover the rural areas as well. I have great difficulty in understanding how a mayor for a rural area such as North Yorkshire can possibly do that work. I still live in North Yorkshire for a good deal of the time when I am not in London, and I think that it has definitely lost out in the stakes to, for example, the Tees Valley mayor. He is a very effective mayor and gets a lot of funding for a lot of infrastructure and other facilities.
My understanding is that we are going to be told in North Yorkshire that we simply will not get these funds if we then do not vote for a metro mayor. Travelling in what was my second consistency—my last constituency— of Thirsk, Malton and Filey, I was easily driving 200 miles a day. I was trying to co-ordinate the meetings as best I could in the particular corner of the constituency I wanted to be in that day, but it often meant that I could not do interviews on television, because they had to be miles away, in Leeds or, heaven forfend, Newcastle, because there were two different broadcasting areas for one constituency.
My first point is that there is a lack of understanding of how this will work in rural areas, yet great pressure will be put on metro mayors for rural areas such as North Yorkshire that, if we do not subscribe to them, we simply will not get the funds. There is also a misunderstanding. We are asking people to vote—and I have had a leaflet from one of the candidates already for the election this year, which I presume is for the county, yet we are told that the existing district councillors will remain in place until next year. Possibly that makes sense, but it is very confusing. I am told that I must vote for the candidate for unitary this year, but I am told that some of the responsibilities may be taken away and I do not quite understand what the timeframe for that would be. It would be helpful to know how long we expect the unitary to be in place before it is to be taken over by a metro mayor.
I would also like to understand what the consultation will be of local people, when they put their views forward. I am slightly concerned that paragraph 10.3 of the Explanatory Note says:
“The Government’s consultation was conducted online using ‘Citizen Space’, the department’s dedicated platform for consultations, with online capture of responses and an alternative option of email responses or post.”
We should bear in mind that we have probably the most woeful internet capability in many of the dales—in Rosedale, Bransdale and all the North Yorkshire moors, and I am sure that it is the same in the Yorkshire Dales. I hope that there was also a more traditional means, perhaps through newspaper advertisements, for people to respond. If there were only 4,297 responses on the two proposals for north Yorkshire, I draw the conclusion that the vast majority of people simply did not respond. I do not think that we can conclude that there is overwhelming satisfaction with the proposals before us.
I could go on, but I think I have made my point. There is no huge demand for this unitary authority. People work closely with their district council. In my experience, in my surgery appointments, most of what I was asked about, with it not being a big area of immigration and that sort of issue, was related to planning—and most of the planning, as we know, goes through the district council. With those few remarks, I look forward to hearing the response from my noble friend.
My Lords, following earlier discussions about errors in statutory instruments, when I worked for Customs and Excise, there was a VAT instrument in which I had a passing interest which had one word wrong. The view was taken that the Under-Secretary whose responsibility it was would never be promoted again as a result. Sadly, he never was, although there may have been more fundamental reasons for that. I am sure that will not be the fate of the Minister.
My interest in this is that I am a resident of Ripon, which is affected by this change. From looking at the two orders we have so far discussed, the similarities and the differences strike me. North Yorkshire is bigger than Cumbria in every way. Cumbria has a population of 498,000; North Yorkshire’s population is 602,000. Cumbria is 60 miles long from north to south; Scarborough to Bentham is 108 miles or three hours’ drive. This is a big place and even some of the wards are huge. I draw the Minister’s attention to Upper Dales, which has Hawes, High Abbotside, Upper Swaledale, Lower Swaledale and Arkengarthdale, and is 20 miles long. It would take you at least 40 minutes to drive from one end to the other and for a fair bit of winter it is impassable, because you have to go over from Wensleydale to Swaledale. This is a very different type of country, as is Cumbria, to much of the rest of England and the rest of the United Kingdom.
As the noble Lord will be aware, whether this is the best proposal was the subject of a massive amount of in-fighting in his party, and a lack of consensus in my party and every other party, about which is the best way forward, because getting it right is extremely complex. I shall not argue the toss about whether there should be a division down the A1, which was highly supported in some places. There was also no effective consultation. People may have responded to an online petition but, having done some canvassing in Ripon, I know that nobody knows it is happening, and far less have they expressed a view.
Although this is nominally the creation of a unitary authority, it will work only if there are two tiers of local government, and the second tier is different from the district. It will be the local. At the moment, Ripon is part of Harrogate district and North Yorkshire county, and there is huge resentment to being part of Harrogate. I knocked on a door and a man answered who was not a natural Liberal Democrat. He made that clear by ripping up the leaflet that I was attempting to give him. I asked him who he was supporting and he said, “I am supporting UKIP because, if UKIP were in here, we would have had our independence from Harrogate by now.” This sort of parochialism is rampant in far-flung parts of North Yorkshire.
Unless there is an effective form of very local government, that feeling of distance will inevitably grow because of the increasing distance. Harrogate is just down the road compared with Northallerton if you live in Ripon, so that man and people generally who live in Ripon, who are fed up with what they see as their subordinate position to Harrogate, will be looking for Ripon, which already has a city council having a cathedral which celebrates its 1,350th anniversary this year, to take on more responsibilities, and that poses major problems.
At the moment, Ripon City Council is a modest affair when it comes to doing things. It is very good when it comes to appearing in the cathedral wearing gowns and being proceeded by the macebearer, but the issue which occupies more of the time of that city council at the moment is the provision of Christmas lights. This will not do in future. There needs to be much more devolution of small powers down to Ripon City Council so that the people of Ripon feel that they can have a real say about small things that matter a lot to them.
North Yorkshire has submitted to Ripon and more generally a list of 27 areas of responsibility, which it says it is prepared to discuss in principle with parish councils and town councils, with a view to devolving. They go from running car parks to providing dog wardens and library services and a whole raft of those sorts of minor things. I know there is an appetite in Ripon for those powers to be taken back, but there is no capacity to do it at the moment. The town hall is a wonderful building but there is no space to do it. The people who work for the city council are estimable, but they do not have the scope to take on many of these powers. I cite Knaresborough Council, which has taken the majority of powers that it can exercise under the current arrangements, as an example of already doing this well. It has a very detailed plan about how it can slowly take on more powers and reckons it will take over a decade to build up the capacity to take on all 27 powers that it could conceivably have. I think, having looked at it and talked to the council, that it is probably right.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, if a parish or town council is taking on a power with expenditure attached, can the Government give an assurance that the resources that come with that new devolved power will not be cut and will be the same as they are currently? Secondly, and more importantly, how do the Government plan to empower local parish and town councils to take on the responsibilities that will be essential if this scheme is going to retain public support?
At the moment, there is not the funding for staff, offices and expertise. It seems to me that this is a very big gap. North Yorkshire says positive things about undertaking this process of devolving things down but, in an area the size of North Yorkshire, you will need a lot of new organisations at very local level and even more resources put into existing ones to turn them from worthy but very limited bodies to ones that exercise real authority and responsibility for delivering the majority of those local services. Northallerton, 50 miles east or west, and the people who work in Northallerton are not going to be the best people to manage those 27 local responsibilities that I have discussed.
This is a challenge to everybody involved in politics in North Yorkshire and a real challenge to the Government because, unless they help, we simply will not get the kind of further devolution away from Northallerton that is essential if this new arrangement is to command popular support over the longer term.
My Lords, I was intrigued to listen to the noble Lord’s stories about Ripon in his speech. I was born in Ripon and have lived within 10 miles of it my entire life, so am familiar with many of the points that he raised. However, as I said in the previous debate about Cumbria, I have always been an enthusiast for the unitary arrangement and I say that in spite of being a former member of a rural district council at Thirsk.
I was lobbied some months back by Harrogate Borough Council, which asked me to support the east/west arrangement. I tried to look into it and make my own mind up. I came to the conclusion that the unitary body for the whole of North Yorkshire was the best way out, and that, in spite of the reservations of Harrogate and others, I would support what we are considering this evening.
It is a wide area—noble Lords only have to look at a map—but there is a difference between North Yorkshire and Cumbria. Largely it is with regard to the administrative centre. I have heard few, but not very many, complaints about the accessibility from Skipton to Northallerton, but that is in no way as difficult as the problems of travelling from Barrow-in-Furness to Carlisle, which is a much more serious problem of remoteness. Whereas I have heard a good many complaints about remoteness over my days in Cumbria, particularly by people who live on the Furness peninsula, I have heard few similar ones in North Yorkshire.
Now that this proposition has been made by the Government through the Minister, I am told that those early differences that I talked about have now largely been resolved and that all of North Yorkshire’s Members of Parliament support the scheme we are discussing. I am told that the preparations are going well. I have been talking to members of the county council about this, and have asked them particularly about how well it is going. I am told that it is going well, especially with regard to the staff who serve the various local authorities, some of whom are going and others of whom will be expanded.
I am particularly pleased that there will be area constituency committees based on parliamentary constituency boundaries. That seems a sensible and constructive idea. I hope this will remove accusations of remoteness and demonstrate that local concerns and problems are being heard and dealt with. I certainly welcome the way in which the various councils at the two levels are co-operating to create the new level. As I ended my remarks on the Cumbria discussion, I wish it well.
My Lords, I am in the happy position of agreeing totally with my noble friend Lord Newby—that is a good start, is it not—particularly with reference to the absolute importance of having a two-tier approach to local governance in all rural areas, but particularly in North Yorkshire. That obviously means that I agree with many of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who put her cards on the table and said that she prefers a two-tier system.
I bring to the Committee’s attention my relevant interests as a member of Kirklees council and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The difficulty we have is that the statutory instrument is very much a done deal. The legislation has come too late for effective challenge. You cannot elicit changes when people are already on the streets, knocking on doors, with the new ward boundaries in their minds. I heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that many elements of the reorganisation are already in train and we know the elections are taking place in a couple of months, so it is a done deal. But it is still worth making some comments, perhaps so that we do not go down some of this route again.
The government policy is that unitarisation—what a horrible word that is for creating unitary councils—must be locally led and not imposed on areas. One of the criteria is that a unitary authority should have a minimum population of 300,000 and a maximum of 600,000. That is interesting: the population of North Yorkshire, as we have heard from my noble friend, is already more than 600,000, so is beyond the limits that have been set.
We heard in the earlier debate what a difficult and large terrain Cumbria is. Here are the figures: Cumbria is 2,580 square miles, and North Yorkshire is 3,400. The population of Cumbria is 500,000; North Yorkshire is 600,000. Cumbria can have two unitary authorities, but North Yorkshire has one. You wonder why.
I picked out at random a London borough for comparison. The council of North Yorkshire will serve a population four times that of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and it covers substantial challenges of geography and size. It includes two wonderful national parks, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors, and very scattered populations, again as you have heard. Connectivity is not good. A noble Lord has already mentioned how difficult it is to acquire mobile signals in parts of the dales, and bus services are being cut as we speak. Access by road can be hugely difficult, especially in winter. I have chosen a simple example: if you want to go from Settle in the west to the county town of Northallerton, which is fairly in the middle of North Yorkshire, it is about 60 miles but will take the best part of two hours. It is not easy and it will not be easy for a unitary authority to govern that vast area effectively.
The noble Baroness says she is concerned about the unitary arrangements. We are returning to my ministerial days, when Ministers were served with advice from behind them. I have had some advice on my email from the leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Les, which may be some consolation to the noble Baroness. I will briefly read what he said: “We do intend to introduce devolution to parish and town councils, where they want it, and we will help them to do it. All is possible in time”. That seems to be a helpful contribution to this debate.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, because, as we heard from my noble friend, it will be very important for there to be devolution to parish and town councils—if they have the capacity to do so, which is one of the key challenges of this arrangement.
What concerns me about this statutory instrument, the previous one and the next one is that they are all about creating a convenient administrative unit. There is no mention in the instrument of the extent of the area covered, its population, its representation, nor a word about people, and we are talking about local government. People are at the heart of any local government: people who can have their voice heard, engage in influencing decisions, know their elected representative and can readily contact them. That is what local government is about, and there is no mention of it in the instrument.
For me, this is about creating efficient local government —whether it will be is a different matter. Whether it will be effective is a moot point. I know from long experience in local government that there is always pressure to make decisions at the expense of listening to the local voice, because that takes time and commitment, and can be difficult. That will be a challenge for North Yorkshire.
I understand that North Yorkshire and the local districts have considered the importance of devolving some decisions to the town councils, and to the area constituency committees being set up. That has been really good, compared with other reorganisations, and they are also setting up local networks to engage local businesses and other partners who deliver public services. That part of what is being done is positive, and I am pleased that where there are no town councils—Harrogate and Scarborough—we will have the chartered trustees referred to in the instrument.
I shall just mention Councillor Les. I worked with him years ago on Yorkshire matters, so he and I know each other, but I totally disagree with him about having a mayor for North Yorkshire. I do not think that will work, and the Government must think of a different way to devolve funding for strategic priorities to the unitary authorities they create such as this one.
The local government map is being reshaped in England bit by bit. There is a strategy somewhere that somebody in the department knows, because it is being eaten away gradually: getting rid of the district councils and replacing them with unitaries, whether they like it or not. The local is gradually being extinguished from local government in the name of getting an efficient—convenient, maybe—local administrative unit. In this case, I think a lot of thought has gone into how North Yorkshire might work, which I applaud. It will face huge challenges. I am not convinced that it will make for local government that listens to local voices and provides an effective response to what local people want for their area, but I hope it works, for the sake of the people who live in North Yorkshire.
My Lords, I thank the Minister again for his introduction to this draft statutory instrument and other noble Lords for giving me so much in-depth information about North Yorkshire. It has been very interesting to listen to the debate.
I shall be brief and shall not repeat the questions that I asked earlier. As with the previously instrument, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee marked this one as being of interest, particularly around the concerns about the implementation of criteria in decision-making. The Minister went into that in his previous answer about Cumbria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has talked about it, so I shall not go into any more detail.
One thing that has been particularly interesting in the debate, which is important in Cumbria as well, is the issue around identity. People talked about Ripon, Scarborough and Harrogate, and how different parts of North Yorkshire are distinct areas. The thing that I am interested in is how we ensure that they continue to have a distinct ownership of place and locality, as well as services. How can they have a genuine say in what is happening going forward, to ensure that, as we move from one council set-up to the new unitary, there is no democratic deficit? The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, talked about constituency committees, but I imagine that those are quite large groups. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, drew our attention to the fact that there were 159 district wards. That is a lot—and I imagine that there are probably more parish councils within that. It is important that powers are not just devolved up to the new body but that there is strong interplay between local communities and the new council being set up. That is something that has come across very strongly to me in the debate—that this is important to local people. I am sure that the Minister will have taken it on board.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, also talked about the importance of resources, which will obviously be critical, but I would also be interested to know whether there are any investments that need to be transferred or budget surpluses or debt that need to be consolidated. We know that local government has had serious cuts over the past decade, so there may well be debts that need to be resolved. I would be interested to hear about that from the Minister, and whether it is likely to cause any difficulties.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, also raised concerns about what could happen if there was a metro mayor for the area, and her concerns around the pressures put on local authorities and people that this is the route that they have to go down to get the sufficient resources and funding that everyone has been talking about. Having lived in rural Cumbria, I totally appreciate that having a metro mayor for a large rural area is not the same as having one for an urban area, and that really needs to be taken into account. I would be very interested in the Minister’s reply on that as well.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, seemed to imply that North Yorkshire was bigger than Cumbria in every way. I would just like to say that we have some rather large mountains. I am sure that, if we took all the area of the mountains into account, we would probably have more than North Yorkshire.
My Lords, this debate has shown a humongous knowledge of North Yorkshire. I remember a school visit to Scarborough and many conferences in Harrogate, but I have a fleeting knowledge of some of the places mentioned by noble Lords. I thank my noble friend Lord Jopling. In these debates, I have never had covering fire as effective as that provided by him, and I wish that he turned up to every statutory instrument that I had to deliver. I would ask him to please be here more often, with his forensic knowledge of every single part and corner of this country, from Cumbria to North Yorkshire. It is stupendous in every respect.
Noble Lords very helpfully said that there was unanimity of support from MPs representing constituencies in North Yorkshire for this proposal, and it is tremendously helpful to know that. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, it actually preserves the service delivery over a county-wide area and has an established local identity which is easily understood by residence. It maintains the brand of North Yorkshire. That is important as well, and I think it is recognised by the MPs who have been elected in constituencies within North Yorkshire. It also aligns with arrangements in existing public sector partnerships and will allow existing relationships and partnership working to be maintained without disruption.
Responding to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, when we hear a number such as 4,300, those are not individuals. Very often they are small, medium and large-scale organisations responding to the consultation. Of course we can always make consultations more effective, but we need to see individual responses from groups, not just the individual citizens of North Yorkshire.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for reminding me on the criterion of size that I was leader for only 16 years of my life in a terribly small London borough. She is always tremendously helpful in pointing these things out. We have a population approaching the size of Bern in Switzerland, and it has its challenges, but none the less, I agree with her that it is far smaller than North Yorkshire. The whole of Yorkshire, in aggregate, seems to envelope the vast majority of the north of England. All I will say is that Lancashire has definitely lost the Wars of the Roses when it comes to geography and scale.
However, the criterion is not simply around numbers. The criterion makes a specific point that a credible geography can be outside the 300,000 to 600,000 range if its population is a figure which, having regard to the circumstances of the authority, including local identity and geography, could be considered substantial. I am happy to set that out in writing if the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, wants to understand the issues, but there is a tolerance around the 300,000 to 600,000 figure, in essence. I do not need to write that out.
I enjoyed most the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, which pointed out the horrendous antagonism between Ripon and Harrogate. It is true. My father grew up in Derbyshire and pointed out that there is sometimes antagonism between Long Eaton and Ilkeston. That is just the reality of where we are. You can see it in any part of continental Europe as well; villages that abut each other are often big rivals. Dare I say that it was ever thus?
I thank again my noble friend Lord Jopling for his covering fire. He invoked the name of Councillor Carl Les, who I had not heard of, but I now know is leader of North Yorkshire County Council and is clearly known by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. His assurance that there is an intention to have that strategic authority but to devolve power and responsibility to town councils is incredibly helpful because the unitary will send that funding flow down to the town. Not every leader should be held at the centre. He has strong decentralising and devolutionary instincts, and it is tremendously helpful to have that assurance.
My noble friend Lady Pickering let me know that she would ask about the mayoralty. This order, in and of itself, allows a mayoralty to happen but does not impose it. I assure her that the introduction of a mayoral combined authority and devolved powers requires local support, but it is understood that any such move would require a full public consultation run by the area. A summary would then be submitted to the Secretary of State, who must be satisfied that there has been adequate consultation, so there is that proviso.
Regarding how the consultation is conducted, I will have to respond to my noble friend in writing. Regarding timeframes, I think they will probably be indicative from other areas, but again it must come from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down. I understand that there is some strong support in the local area for potentially having a mayor, but I will set all that out in a letter.
The last question concerns assets and debts. Within the current structure, although the top layer does not change, all the assets and debts essentially transfer to the unitary. All the assets, liabilities and debts just transfer, so that is a very simple matter.
We have had a very interesting debate. I continue, lord-lieutenant or not, to become a more rounded exponent of the virtues of local government in different parts of the country. I thank noble Lords for their contributions.