THE leader of Ryedale District Council has resigned in protest at an increase in council tax he has called “cruel and unnecessary” amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Councillor Keane Duncan announced his decision to resign at the start of a full council meeting held this evening (February 25). Deputy leader Councillor Steve Arnold, who leads the Ryedale First Independent group, also resigned.

The decision comes a week after the Conservative leader proposed a freeze in the district’s council tax for 2021/22. His proposal was overturned by a coalition of Liberal, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, who voted instead to increase council tax by the maximum amount allowed without a referendum, equivalent to an extra £5 for a Band D property.

The opposition coalition also agreed to allocate an additional £2.2m of expenditure from the council’s reserves on projects including £1.5m on a relocated livestock market in Malton.

Announcing his resignation this evening, Councillor Duncan told the council: “The council tax increase approved by Liberal, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors has come as a cruel and unnecessary blow in a year when many families are struggling so much as a result of the pandemic.

“I cannot in good conscience stand by and watch as they push through this unpopular hike in council tax. Therefore, I am tonight taking a standby announcing my immediate resignation as leader of the council in protest at their disgraceful and greedy act.

“I believe the public stand with me. They have rightly reacted with anger and disbelief at news that Liberals, Liberal Democrats and Independents are asking them for more of their cash when there was no need to do so given the millions we have in the bank.

“In this year, of all years, they could have given residents a break, but instead they chose to add to the burden. When Conservatives and Ryedale First Independents stood on the side of residents, they stood and laughed in their faces. Their reckless £2.2m spending spree only adds insult to injury.”

He added: “Given everything we have been able to achieve in recent months, I am disappointed progress will come to a juddering halt as the coalition opposite takes charge.

“But my decision to go, however tough, is the right one. I cannot stay in post while those opposite destroy this council’s finances, denigrate our good staff, and subject struggling families to a cruel and unnecessary hike in council tax.”

Councillor Duncan joined the council in 2015, while still a university student. Now aged 26, he had been the youngest leader in Britain. He was appointed in May 2019 as part of a partnership arrangement with the Ryedale First Independents.

During his time in office, he has been a leading voice in the debate over the future of local government in North Yorkshire, opposing the county council’s bid to create a single unitary authority for the county and proposing the alternative east and west model.

Councillor Duncan remains a councillor and leader of the council’s 10-member Conservative group, while Councillor Arnold continues as leader of the three Ryedale First Independents.