A Harrogate town council: outgoing council leader’s view.

Councillor Richard Cooper, outgoing leader of Harrogate Borough Council, writes a monthly column for the Harrogate Advertiser series of newspapers. In the latest he shares his thoughts on the possibility of a new town council for Harrogate.

“Over 23 years I have seen a lot of reports come through the council requesting a decision on one thing or another.

“I ask a fairly simple set of questions when making a decision.  Often these are things like ‘what are the benefits of doing this?’, ‘how much will it cost now and in the future?’, ‘who is it aimed at?’ and ‘what harm can it do?’.

“As I prepare to leave elected politics I ask these questions too over what will come next.

“Going from two councils to one single council for our area – unitary government – is common sense.  It removes duplication of roles and duties particularly at the most senior (and most expensive) level.  It eliminates confusion over which council is responsible for what.  It enables savings to be made because goods and services can be bought in greater quantities.

“Bearing in mind the above, I can understand therefore why there was some surprise that proposals are coming forward to put in place a town council for Harrogate.

“Now it may be a very good idea.  It may be the best thing that has ever happened for the town.  But how do we make that judgement?

“What will it do?  How much will it cost?  No-one has told us.

“I don’t think anyone is hiding anything or keeping the facts secret.  I simply think they don’t know and haven’t thought about it.

“Sometimes when people say ‘we must have this’ or ‘this will be great’ you have to stop and ask those questions and not get swept along on the bandwagon.  You have to be the brakes that ensure a good decision is made.  This relentless drive for a Harrogate Town Council is a bandwagon with many drivers none of whom have yet found the brake pedal to give themselves time to ask – and answer – these questions.

“It important that they do so soon.  Having a new town council cannot be an end in itself.  It must have a purpose, a job to do, a reason for being.

“We do know that a town council for Harrogate will mean a new layer of councillors.  This seems strange since we have just removed a layer of councillors to create the new North Yorkshire Council.

“We do know that a new town council will have the ability to levy an additional charge – called a precept – on residents on top of their council tax. 

“We know that the precept is not subject to any cap or limit unlike our regular council tax where an upper limit on increases is set by Government.

“People embrace democracy when they understand what those elected seek to achieve – even if they disagree with it.  But we do not know what that precept will be used for and we don’t know how much, therefore, it will be.  Now is the time for the advocates of the town council to give us the answers.”