Kirklees Council is 50 years old on April 1 2024 but is that a cause for celebration? That was the vexed question which confronted councillors in a town hall debate.

The council has just published its budget for 2024-25 which will mean £47 million in cuts to public services and hundreds of job losses.

The council has been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, claiming chronic Government underfunding.

‘Kirklees’ as a place doesn’t exist. The local authority took its name from Kirklees Hall and estate – hidden away between Cooper Bridge and Brighouse. Ironically, Kirklees Hall isn’t in Kirklees at all, it’s in Calderdale.

In 1974 a local government re-organisation lumped Huddersfield and the Holme and Colne valleys with Dewsbury, Batley, Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton. North and South Kirklees, as they became known, have always been uneasy bedfellows.

Down the years there have been calls to split Kirklees in two. It’s always seen as a vote-winner but there was never a political will to make it happen.

At a full meeting of Kirklees Council on Wednesday night, the council devoted an hour and 20 minutes to a ‘key discussion’ on the council’s half-century.

Council leader Cathy Scott said it wasn’t about “patting ourselves on the back” but thanking the thousands of council workers and public servants who had made the district what it was.

She also hailed the community groups and volunteers who worked so hard simply for the love of their communities.

She also praised local businesses and industry, highlighting the University of Huddersfield as “an outstanding institution in every respect.”

Clr Scott said the anniversary was all about celebrating people and their resilience and added: “There’s no doubt that the next 50 years will present us with challenges too but the last 50 years, if it tells us anything, it’s about the people of Kirklees. That’s why I’m optimistic for our future and I’m proud about our past.”

Green group leader Clr Andrew Cooper (Newsome) made a light-hearted speech with some pointed political references.

“Kirklees doesn’t exist,” he said. “Kirklees Priory, after which our council is named, is situated in Calderdale. It was, according to legend, associated with the death of Robin Hood, who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, or progressive taxation as it’s more generally known!

“For 50 years we have had a council with a contrived identity with a name chosen as a compromise and a convenience, which has satisfied no-one.

“Any criticism I have of the institution of Kirklees is not a criticism of the good, dedicated councillors and staff who have worked hard to make the lives of people within its boundaries better.

“As a supposedly democratic body, Kirklees falls short. At the last local election the ruling party won 43% of the vote but has 100% of the power.

“The vast majority of its decisions are taken by nine councillors in the Cabinet, with the other 60 councillors having no vote on the important decisions that people elect them to address.

“Ultimately, we need a fair voting system for both local and national elections but we have parties who rely on an undemocratic system that works for them rather than voters.

“Over the years the Conservative Party talked about splitting Kirklees along North-South lines into two councils. This plays well with some people but would lose economies of scale and would be more expensive to run.

“We have had a Tory-led government for 14 years and nothing has happened. It just looks like cynical, vote-grabbing nonsense that can’t be delivered.

“So how can we make things better? A committee system where all Kirklees councillors have a vote on all decisions. That’s an idea! That’s probably what most people think happens anyway – but it doesn’t.

“What about new councils which have a focus on Huddersfield or Batley or Colne Valley or Dewsbury? We don’t have to abolish Kirklees to create new town councils with a new more local focus.

“Over 150 new town and parish councils have been created since 1997. It’s happened in Bingley. Why not in Huddersfield?”

Clr Mohan Sokhal (Lab, Greenhead), a councillor for 35 years, said he had seen many huge developments in Kirklees over that time including the John Smith’s Stadium – 30 years old this year; the Kingsgate Centre; the Sainsbury’s store at Shorehead; and the new Huddersfield Leisure Centre.

He recalled the first leader of Kirklees Council, Tom Megahy, of Mirfield, and praised the work of Sir John Harman, who led the council from 1986-1999.

Clr Andrew Marchington (Lib Dem, Golcar) spoke about the success of the Colne Valley Museum in Golcar, Milnsbridge Village Hall, the Longwood Village Group and the Golcar Lily Environment Group.

“Diversity is a strength from the Peak District to the West Riding conurbation and we should celebrate the people who live here,” he said.

Clr Amanda Pinnock (Lab, Ashbrow) said she wanted to celebrate the Windrush generation and how families had made such a significant impact in Kirklees.

Clr John Taylor (Con, Kirkburton) earned a round of applause for Kirkburton parish councillor Jimmy Paxton, of Flockton, who has served since 1974. Clr Taylor described him as “a true example of a public servant.”

Clr Charles Greaves (Ind, Holme Valley North) said the district’s strength was its people and communities while Kirklees as an institution simply wasn’t very popular.

Clr Adam Gregg (Con, Lindley) highlighted the community group Growing Focal and Chrissie Parker who runs it.

He said while people were proud of their own communities, there was a “disconnect” with Kirklees and councillors from all parties should give serious consideration on whether to split Kirklees or rebrand the local authority.

After the meeting, Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) questioned whether there should have been such a lengthy debate when the council was facing a financial crisis and had many more important issues to discuss.

Clr Bolt shed more light on how Kirklees got its name, thanks to research he obtained from West Yorkshire Archive Service.

It was said the name ‘Kirklees’ was chosen from a shortlist of six names discussed at a Joint Consultative Committee meeting held on October 2 1972 which included councillors from the 11 local authorities that were merging.

The six shortlisted names were: Agbrigg, Hilldale, Kirklees, Penndale, West Elmete and Woolvale.

In November 1971 the Huddersfield Examiner ran a competition requesting submissions for the name of the new local authority area.

The newspaper received over 500 different suggestions and the Examiner chose ‘Brigantia’ as their favourite. Brigantia was a Celtic goddess and healer.