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One council for Bucks: Government decision

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has published his decision

Published by the Mix96 News Team at 1:30pm 12th March 2018. (Updated at 5:53pm 12th March 2018) 3-minute read.

One council for Bucks: Government decision

It looks like Buckinghamshire will have just one council in future.

The government have just published a recommendation to have a single, unitary authority for the county.

  • Unitary authority recommended by government
  • AVDC, Wycombe District, Chiltern & South Bucks, plus Bucks County Council, would be 'merged' into new, single authority
  • Not a final decision, but a serious recommendation by Sajid Javid
  • County Council Leader says it's 'really positive news'
  • District Councils say they are 'extremely disappointed'
  • Click for previous stories on this issue

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, said:

"I am satisfied that this new single council, if established, is likely to improve local government and service delivery in the county, generating savings, increasing financial resilience, facilitating a more strategic and holistic approach to planning and housing challenges, and sustaining good local services.

"I am also satisfied that across Buckinghamshire as a whole there is a good deal of local support for this new council, and that the area of the council represents a credible geography."

There was another idea, to have two councils, based around Aylesbury Vale and then the other three districts.

The Secretary of State doesn't seem to think that would be a good idea:

"Whereas, I am equally satisfied that establishing two councils for the current county area is unlikely to improve local government in the area, generate significant savings, or provide the capacity to sustain major services or to address planning and housing challenges.

"I believe the areas of the two councils would not represent a credible geography or clear local identity, and that there is significantly less local support for two councils than for a single council. Accordingly, I am not minded to proceed with the proposal for establishing two councils."

There is now a time for representation, where people can make suggestions on the idea.

We've been following this story as it progresses - our live updates are below.

5:45pm

Full statement on behalf of all Bucks district councils: 

The Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, has announced in parliament that he is “minded” to implement Buckinghamshire County Council’s proposal to replace the existing five councils in Bucks with a single county-wide unitary.

While we are extremely disappointed, the “minded to” decision is not set in stone, and as the process allows, we will be making the strongest possible representations to the Secretary of State that this decision is not the right one. We don’t believe that this decision is in the best interest of our local residents, businesses, community groups, parish councils and various other stakeholders across the county and, based on our own engagement, we don’t believe it has strong local support.

Our two new unitary proposal, which can be seen at www.modernisingbucks.org recognises key areas of difference for the communities in the north and the south, such as the economy, jobs, growth and housing markets. We believe a single large unitary will mean major opportunities will be missed in these areas and that a one size fits all model will not mean the best deal. We also question the savings the single unitary model claims to deliver. 

There is now a period until 25 May 2018 during which those interested may make further representations to the Secretary of State and we will be reflecting on today’s announcement carefully. Representations can be made by emailing sajid.javid.mp@parliament.uk

The final decision will be subject to Parliamentary approval.

5:26pm

District councils not happy...

5:12pm
5:05pm

Buckinghamshire Business First welcomes single unitary decision

Alex Pratt OBE, Chairman of Buckinghamshire Business First, the Growth Hub for Buckinghamshire said:

“Buckinghamshire deserves all the good government we can afford and our business community wholeheartedly supports efficient local government and public services. Today’s decision, subject to the outcome of the period of representations, will help ensure best use is made of taxpayer’s money for the benefit of businesses and residents alike. Buckinghamshire Business First look forward to working alongside all of our local authority partners in supporting a smooth transition to the new unitary arrangements.”

“A report commissioned in 2014 by Buckinghamshire Business First suggested that over £20m a year could be saved by streamlining the county’s five local authorities into one. The research, conducted by Ernst & Young, concluded that annual savings of £20.7m could be made, as well as a potential five year net saving of over £58m.”

“Buckinghamshire Business First will work constructively to bring the collective business voice in Bucks to bear in support of the creation of a new local government arrangement that helps better power our local economy and support our community.”

3:33pm

Not everyone happy with the decision...

2:41pm

County Council Leader Martin Tett reacts

“It’s really positive news that the government is minded to support our proposals for a single unitary council. The new council will simplify the current local government setup, save many millions of pounds to plough back into frontline services and enable services to be provided for residents at a truly local level.

“We know there is widespread support for these proposals and we will continue talking with residents and a wide range of organisations across the county to ensure the new council benefits from their input and expertise as things develop.

"I’d encourage as many people as possible to let the government know their views. Together we can make a single unitary council happen, which will not only improve residents’ lives now, but crucially will create a Buckinghamshire that is fit and thriving for the future.”

The new single unitary council would provide services at a very local level for residents, who would be able to access services via a network of community hubs in locations across the county. The formation of community boards across Buckinghamshire would put real decision-making power in the hands of local people, empowering them to meet the differing needs of local communities.

Services which complement one another but are currently divided between the district and County councils such as bin collections, waste disposal, planning and roads, would be brought together under the single unitary council, resulting in more efficient, joined-up services for residents.

Martin reiterated that the County Council is committed to working closely with the district councils and other partners to ensure a smooth transition to the new unitary council: “There is consensus amongst all our local councils about the need for change, and that our current two-tier system requires modernisation. Now is the time to work together and put any differences to one side to ensure that we can give our residents a far simpler system by offering better value and more joined-up services.

“Let’s grasp this once-in-a-lifetime chance to tell the government that a single unitary council is the best route for Buckinghamshire. A single unitary means we can join up and redesign services, focusing on the needs of residents, combining best practice from across our existing councils, to design public services that are fit for our future generations.”

2:23pm

2:06pm

1:48pm

In the run up to this decision, councils put together proposals for how unitary authorities would work. All four district councils (AVDC, Wycombe District, Chiltern and South Bucks) wanted two council approach - one covering North Bucks (where AVDC now covers) and one council covering the south half. 

MP Sajid Javid has backed the Bucks-wide proposal though, here's what Bucks County Council put forward:

Bucks County Council's vision of Unitary Authority

1:46pm

Aylesbury MP David Lidington responds

David Lidington

“We have been waiting more than a year for this decision and I'm glad that we can now move on to ensure that this reform is a success. 

“Our County and District Councils all agreed that the present two-tier system had to go. It’s always been confusing to the public to work out which council did what and the two-tier system is also becoming financially unsustainable. 

“While the Secretary of State’s decision will disappoint those, especially in the current District Councils, who championed moving to two unitary authorities, I hope that everyone will now put those arguments behind us and get on with making the transition to a unitary council as smooth as possible.”

1:44pm

1:44pm

1:41pm

Full text from Sajid Javid's announcement

I am today announcing how I am minded to proceed in response to the locally-led proposals that I have received for improving local government in Buckinghamshire. Currently in the administrative county of Buckinghamshire, there is a two-tier structure of Buckinghamshire County Council and the district councils of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, High Wycombe, and South Bucks.

There is broad local consent for change in Buckinghamshire, though there have been two alternative approaches for how precisely it should be configured. In September 2016 and January 2017, I received locally-led proposals for replacing the current structure, in one case with a single new unitary council and in the other case with two new unitary councils – one for the area of Aylesbury Vale and the other for the remainder of the current county area.

Having carefully considered all the material and representations I have received, I am minded to implement, subject to Parliamentary approval and further discussions, the locally-led proposal to replace the existing five councils across Buckinghamshire with a single council for the area.

I am satisfied that this new single council, if established, is likely to improve local government and service delivery in the county, generating savings, increasing financial resilience, facilitating a more strategic and holistic approach to planning and housing challenges, and sustaining good local services. I am also satisfied that across Buckinghamshire as a whole there is a good deal of local support for this new council, and that the area of the council represents a credible geography.

Whereas, I am equally satisfied that establishing two councils for the current county area is unlikely to improve local government in the area, generate significant savings, or provide the capacity to sustain major services or to address planning and housing challenges. I believe the areas of the two councils would not represent a credible geography or clear local identity, and that there is significantly less local support for two councils than for a single council. Accordingly, I am not minded to proceed with the proposal for establishing two councils.

Notwithstanding, I am clear that in relation to establishing a single council further steps are needed to secure local consent amongst the local partners, and I hope this ‘minded to’ announcement will facilitate the necessary discussions to deliver this local agreement.

Before I take my final decision, there is now a period until 25 May 2018 during which those interested may make further representations to me, including that if a proposal is implemented it is with suggested modifications. The final decision would also be subject to Parliamentary approval.

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