50 Years Since the Abolition of the Ridings Authorities

I was recently contacted by Victoria Finan, Social Affairs Correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, who was interested in my thoughts regarding the Local Government reorganisation of Yorkshire fifty years ago today. The 1st of April 1974 saw the implementation of The Local Government Act 1972 which changed administrative boundaries nationwide, including the abolition of each of the Ridings Authorities in Yorkshire. With those changes, significant parts of Yorkshire were placed under authorities based outside the County and Yorkshire’s internal administrative boundaries were redrawn beyond recognition. Specifically, Victoria asked:

  • As we mark the 50th anniversary of local government reorganisation, what does YDM believe is the biggest impact the 1974 act had on the region?
  • Why do you believe it is vital for further devolution in the region?
  • How would further devolution better the lives of Yorkshire residents, in your opinion?
  • Why is the heritage of Yorkshire’s historic boundaries still so important in 2024?
  • Would you support a return to the former Ridings system?

My responses:

Thank you for your interest in my thoughts on the matters you raised. I believe I have responded to all the questions you raised, although not in a one answer to one question format, as follows:

Whereas devolution is about bringing decision making on regional issues closer to the people of the region affected, the implementation of the Local Government Act 1972 demonstrated central decision makers imposing decisions they had made upon the people of those regions;  exactly the opposite to devolution! So, arguably, the biggest impact of implementing the Act, in 1974, on the people of Yorkshire, or indeed on the people of any Traditional County, is the fact that it showed that their opinions, priorities and feelings counted for little or nothing in the eyes of central Government.

In addition, research has shown that there are regional differences in the loyalty people have to their Traditional County identity. Folk of northern counties generally place more importance on their county identity than those of southern counties, with the exception of Cornwall, who, like Yorkshire identify very strongly with their county. Fortunately for the people of Cornwall, their county was not affected by the Act whereas great swathes of Yorkshire were placed under the administration of local authorities based outside Yorkshire’s traditional boundaries and, as a consequence, their Yorkshire identity became threatened. It was that threat which gave rise to the founding of The Yorkshire Ridings Society, of which I am also a committee member, to promote the ongoing recognition of the County of Yorkshire, her Ridings and her traditional boundaries. The reason these are still so important in 2024 is simply that “Yorkshire” is no one thing but an inextricable link between its people, their identity, their heritage and their homeland, or as some Yorkshire folk will put it, “Yorkshire is not just a county but a state of mind!”

Had Yorkshire been a devolved entity fifty years ago, the Yorkshire people would have had a powerful voice to protect matters such as their heritage, culture, traditions, identity, boundaries, and everything else that make Yorkshire, Yorkshire! Can anyone imagine bureaucrats in Whitehall interfering with such matters in Scotland or Wales without their devolved administrations telling them where to go in no uncertain terms?! But what happened in 1974 is just one example, it has been plain to see that, since then, the best interests of Yorkshire have just not been served by central Government and regardless of what Yorkshire wants, needs or goes cap-in-hand to London for, it only gets what Whitehall says it can have, despite the pretence of, “Levelling Up”!

“Yorkshire” is a world renowned brand whose economic potential can only be maximised if it is managed by those who know Yorkshire best.  That is why strong, meaningful devolution to Yorkshire, such as via a directly elected Yorkshire Parliament, with equitable funding and powers inferior to no other devolved administration, is vital to enable Yorkshire to compete with the likes of Scotland and London & the South East by improving connectivity and infrastructure across Yorkshire to create jobs and attract inward investment and by investing in education to give local people the skills and opportunities they need to carry on Yorkshire’s growth into the future.

Regarding “a return to the former Ridings sytem”, as the Local Government Act 1972 did not apply to traditional boundaries, the Ridings themselves never went away; only their administrative function was abolished so there is nothing incorrect about using the Ridings in correspondence, addresses, or geographical reference. I am a firm believer that devolution to Yorkshire should mean devolution to the whole Traditional County of Yorkshire and therefore that all parts of the Ridings should be included in the administrative area of a Yorkshire Government.

As there is no significant difference in size of landmass between the traditional East Riding of Yorkshire and the current administrative area of East Yorkshire, I see no reason to not return that administration to its traditional boundaries. As the North Riding of Yorkshire is bigger than the East Riding but smaller than the existing administrative area of North Yorkshire, I also see no reason to not revert to those boundaries for administrative purposes. When it comes to the West Riding of Yorkshire, however, I can see that there may need to be something other than a single administrative authority due to its sheer size and population, as is reflected in the current set up where South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, both of the West Riding, are separate administrations.

Victoria replied:

Hi Nigel, thank you so much for this, it’s very thought provoking and I think will chime well with a lot of our readers!

Victoria Finan

Victoria Finan

Social Affairs Correspondent

Victoria Finan is the Yorkshire Post’s social affairs correspondent. She is based in York and covers poverty, levelling up, social care, LGBT and race issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing fiction, swimming, handicrafts, and exploring Yorkshire’s amazing food and drink scene.

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