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BUCKS: 'Two unitary authorities better than one'

There is only two months to go until the public consultation on modernising local government comes to an end.

Published by the Mix96 News Team at 1:48pm 9th April 2018. (Updated at 5:25pm 9th April 2018) 6-minute read.

BUCKS: 'Two unitary authorities better than one'

By: Jasmine Rapson, Local Democracy Reporter

Two unitary authorities in Buckinghamshire will be better-equipped than a “super council” to cope with further “inevitable” cuts to local government budgets, say district chiefs.

With just two months to go until the public consultation on modernising local government comes to an end, the leaders of Wycombe, Chiltern and South Bucks councils are urging constituents to back their plans – as “biggest is not always best”.

The leaders submitted a proposal to the Government last year for two unitary authorities in the county to rival Bucks County Council’s (BCC) plans to scrap all four district councils and replace them with one “super authority”.

If BCC’s plans are  implemented the single-unitary council will be based in Aylesbury – and around 19 community bases will be dotted around the county.

However, leader of Chiltern District Council (CDC), Isobel Darby, said there is a “huge danger” that the hubs could be axed further down the line if more cuts are made to local government budgets.

She added that two councils serving the north and south of the county will “be more effective and more efficient” and provide a “more local” service than Bucks County Council’s rival proposal.

Cllr Darby said:

“When times get tough, and they will get tough, local government cuts have not finished by any stretch of the imagination, there will have to be cuts.

“And those cuts mean that a lot of these local non statutory services will be the first that will start feeling the pinch.

“I am not necessarily convinced that hubs are the way to go because we are moving far more to a digital age at the moment but there is that danger that there won’t be those things in place.

“You have to look at the largest geography of the authority and that is why we believe it should be smaller.”

Last month the Government gave the green-light to BCC’s proposals for one council in Bucks – however the district leaders say their fight is not over yet as a final decision is yet to be made.

Leader of South Bucks District Council, Nick Naylor, said the needs of residents across the north and south of the county are very different, so would benefit more from two councils.

He said:

“They are quite different parts of the world if you like even though they are in the same county.

“The differences as such that residents needs are different as well. We certainly believe closer to the point of delivery is better for the residents.

“It is also about local knowledge within the council itself in terms of deliverance. One of the things all three of the southern councils have done very well together is work together to deliver better services.”

To have you say on the proposals email sajid.javid@communities.gsi.gov.uk and for further information visit www.modernisingbucks.org.uk

Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, said:

“The County Council’s options appraisal, which was independently verified by a third party, concluded that a new single unitary council would deliver the greatest possible level of financial savings – the savings assumptions of £18m a year in our proposals are prudent estimates. These savings will go towards protecting and improving the local and vital services that people value. A new single council will also give clear accountability through a single point of contact for residents and organisations as well as the ability to be a strategic voice for Buckinghamshire on a regional and national stage; this will ensure that the new council is strong and sustainable for the future.

“Importantly, the Secretary of State was very clear in his recent statement that two unitary councils are unlikely to generate significant savings or provide the capacity to sustain major services.

“We are very clear that ‘one size’ does not ‘fit all’. Right across Buckinghamshire the different local communities all have differing needs. It is not 'north versus south'. Marlow is different from Wycombe, Wycombe from Chesham, Chesham from Wendover and Wendover from Buckingham.  That’s why the new single council will have local services tailored to the needs and wishes of each community, via a network of community centres which are fully costed into the business case for the new council. The crucial part of this is that the new council will work in close collaboration with local partners and communities to co-design these new, very local services, so people will have the opportunity to shape services for their own area.

“Additionally, local communities will have more say in decisions on their local area and will have a stronger voice for the local issues that matter to them. There will also be opportunities for more services to be put under more local control, if that’s what the community decides – along with the budget and support to make this sustainable and successful. This is a proven model with evidence of where this is working very successfully in other unitary county areas such as Wiltshire, Shropshire and Durham.

“It’s vital to stress that this would be a completely new council for Buckinghamshire, not a 'County Council take over'. The completely new council would draw upon the very best from the heritage of current Districts and County councils with newly-elected unitary councillors; and the work to create the new council would be done jointly by councillors and officers from across all five existing councils.”

Picture from LtoR: Leader of South Bucks District Council, Nick Naylor

Leader of Wycombe District Council, Katrina Wood

Leader of Chiltern District Council, Isobel Darby

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