The Leader of Harrogate Borough Council has called for a referendum of Harrogate town residents before a new town council is established. Councillor Richard Cooper, who has led the soon-to-be-disbanded council since 2014, made the plea following publication of a ‘local governance review’ by North Yorkshire County Council which did not include the measure.
Speaking exclusively to the Harrogate Advertiser, Councillor Cooper said: “The new single council for North Yorkshire will take on the duties of North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council. At every election we give our views on the duties those councils, soon to be just North Yorkshire Council, are undertaking on our behalf.
“And that principle of taxation to provide services with the taxpayers’ consent is long-established. That is why before a new town council for Harrogate is formed we should have a referendum of all those who will be expected to use their hard-earned cash to pay for it.
“As yet we don’t know what a new town council would do. And how much would it cost to do whatever it is that is proposed? If it is not doing anything new or anything better is it something that we would actually want? Will it be a political council with all the normal petty squabbling that gives local government a bad name?
“So there are a lot of questions but few answers yet. All we really know is that it will be a tax-raising body levying a precept on each household to fund it. And if it takes on managing leisure and wellness centres, responsibility for maintaining the parks and gardens or cutting the Stray will the cost of those things mean we pay lower council tax to North Yorkshire Council who will no longer be funding them?
“So we need to know what it is proposed the new town council will do and how much it will cost before we can then judge whether or not we want it. And, because this is a new tax-raising body complete with new responsibilities, councillors and staff that judgement should be made by a referendum of all those expected to pay for it.
“The timetable proposed for the Community Governance Review – the precursor to establishing a new town council – makes no reference to such a referendum. Not to hold one with the full facts known about how it will work, what it will do and how much it will cost will from day one undermine its credibility among those expected to fund it.
“I am sure a robust case can be made for a new town council but that case is not yet made. So beware those advocating this huge step into the unknown. Until they can tell us precisely what this new council will do and how much it will charge you for that privilege the wise person will reserve judgement.”