What goes around comes calling again?

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IT is 25 years since the West Yorkshire County Council was scrapped. Local Government reporter Michael Peel asks whether things are turning full circle

FEW tears were shed when the West Yorkshire County Council was abolished in April 1986. It meant the end of a tier of local government which was rather remote and had all the trappings of the old West Riding era.

The council was responsible for major roads, regional planning, consumer protection, tourism, refuse tips, coroners courts, archives and the probation service.

It built workshops, provided industrial redevelopment grants, organised road safety and gave money to professional arts organisations, and most importantly had responsibility for the police, fire and public transport.

When the council was scrapped, about 400 of the county’s 5,000 staff were transferred to Calderdale Council along with £10 million to spend locally on the services the county used to provide.

Many thought it a good idea to make Halifax Town Hall rather than Wakefield City Hall the principal venue for local decision making.

But Calderdale Council’s former chief executive Michael Ellison warned: “This area will be worse off for the passing of the county council.” His reasoning was that the county always spent more on Calderdale than it took out in rates.

Canny political bargaining meant Calderdale got a larger slice of the county’s £380 million budget, per head of population, than any of the other four authorities - Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees and Wakefield.

From the time it took over from the West Riding County Council in 1974 until 1983 it spent the equivalent of almost £100 per head on building and improvement schemes compared to £35 across the county as a whole.

One of the most useful and high profile projects the county council undertook in Calderdale was building the King Cross by-pass, otherwise known as the Aachen Way, in 1983.

Actions from the FA CUp match FC Halifax Town v Mansfield Town at the Shay.'Pictured is

Actions from the FA CUp match FC Halifax Town v Mansfield Town at the Shay.'Pictured is

Another highway, the M62 at Brighouse, had been used to illustrate the birth of the West Yorkshire County Council a decade earlier.

One county benefit which has only just born fruit stemmed from the county council’s ownership of shares in Leeds Bradford Airport.

When these were sold in 2007, Calderdale received a £9 million handout which helped to pay for new swimming pools in Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge, and the £5 million redevelopment of the Shay stadium.

Twenty five years after the county was abolished, economic pressures are bearing down heavily on councils in West Yorkshire and politicians are looking to save money by jointly providing services.

Calderdale’s Lib-Lab leaders are working with Bradford Council on a multi-million pound refuse disposal complex.

They are also talking to Kirklees Council about jointly managing museums and art galleries.

Conservatives want to go further by combining administrative jobs in finance, payroll, human resources and administration, which in some ways points towards local government going full circle.

As part of its bid to reduce the number of MPs, the Government is looking to redraw parliamentary boundaries and there is speculation that Calderdale could be split to bolster constituencies either side of the Pennines.

It wouldn’t take much imagination to go the whole hog and merge separate parts of Calderdale with Kirklees, Bradford, Oldham, Rochdale or Burnley.

The changes over the next 25 years will be substantial but it is unlikely that any more councillors will be sent half-way around the world to swap ideas on road safety, as happened to Halifax county representative Lesley Sleigh.

The chairwoman of the county road safety committee and a colleague spent six days in Hong Kong mainly “photographing buses and trams.”

It took five years for a special organisation to fully wind-up the affairs of the county council, to sell more than 200 buildings and 25,000 plots of land for which Calderdale eventually received about £5 million.