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Deadline looms for you to have a say on Bucks Unitary debate

Both sides have set out their final arguments in this long-running debate.

Published by Dan Gooding at 5:38am 24th May 2018. (Updated at 8:50am 24th May 2018) 7-minute read.

Deadline looms for you to have a say on Bucks Unitary debate

By Jasmine Rapson, Local Democracy Reporter

The ‘super council’ debate has dominated headlines for almost two years– and now there is just 24 hours left for you to have your say on how the future of Buckinghamshire is shaped.

In 2016 Bucks County Council (BCC) unveiled plans to scrap all five councils replace them with one ‘super authority’ in bid to transform the current system, which has been described as outdated and inefficient.

However the journey has been far from plain sailing, as the leaders of South Bucks, Chiltern, Wycombe and Aylesbury Vale district councils formulated their own rival plans for two councils – one for the north and one for the south of the county.

The public rivalry has strained the county and districts’ relationship – raising questions as to whether they will be able unite and work together to implement a new authority.

The councils have even failed to agree on how much money will be saved by each proposal – with BCC claiming two councils will save £17.3 million over five years, while the districts say £58 million will actually be saved.

Both plans were presented to government, and in March then secretary of state, Sajid Javid, backed BCC’s plans – and subsequently launched a consultation so all interested parties could have their say.

With days to go until the representation period comes to a close on May 25 – here is all the information you need to know about the major authority shake-up set to transform the county for good.

Representations can be sent to the new minister for housing, communities and local government, James Brokenshire, at james.brokenshire@communities.gsi.gov.uk.

Districts fight for two unitary

unitary - district leaders
The four District Council leaders

The four district councils have long supported plans for two unitary authorities – here is what they have to say on the plans:

  • Two new councils = one new council for you. Wherever you are based in Bucks, you’ll have one council that provides your local services, which will put an end to the confusion over who does what
  • More joined-up, flexible, sustainable services will be provided, tailored to your needs – whether you’re a resident, business owner or part of a bigger community group
  • More flexible councils will be created and based more locally to you. There will be local decision making, while making sure that money raised in the local area is spent locally
  • Two new councils, one for the north and one for the south of the county, will reduce the current number of councillors, but still make sure that you have fair, democratic representation
  • Two new councils will provide an opportunity to streamline decision-making processes, reduce local bureaucracy and provide clearer accountability for the provision of services
  • Two new councils would make £58 million savings over five years. But more than that, two new, smaller and more flexible councils would create significant sustainable savings while delivering better services, which are easier to access.
  • District councils have a strong track record in transforming services, for example, by sharing services and embracing the digital world, all while making significant savings
  • It’s about focusing on the right economy to grow – north and south Bucks have very different opportunities and challenges. The north of Bucks looks more to Milton Keynes and Oxford while the south of Bucks is more connected to London. Communities, employment, housing and opportunities are totally different
  • The right size: we know that smaller, all-purpose councils can thrive and that there is no evidence that larger local authorities are more efficient
  • Two new unitary councils would mean better investment and jobs for both the north and south of Bucks

In a joint statement, the leaders of the district councils said:

“We know that some of the services that are currently provided by your local councils need improving.

“The district councils have a strong track record of making improvements to services and saving money at the same time, as well being innovative and leading on major regeneration projects which have benefitted your local towns and villages.

“This track record could be the foundation for two, really great new councils. There is no evidence to suggest that very large councils have good services with sustainable financial futures.”

County supports ‘super council’

Buckinghamshire / Bucks County Council

BCC has been campaigning for a ‘super council’ for almost two years, claiming more money will be made with one proposal. Here’s what county chiefs have to say about their proposal:

  • One council will save at least £18.2m each and every year, with savings over the first five years totalling £45m (taking into account cost of transition and time taken to realise full annual savings)
  • These significant savings can be reinvested in improving services for residents and businesses. To put £18m in context, it is more than what is currently spent on road resurfacing, and is roughly the cost of a new primary school
  • One council is the most realistic chance of changing the two-tier system, which all parties agree is too confusing and inefficient
  • County-wide services are performing well – 94% schools are good or outstanding; there’s a 99% satisfaction rate at tips; 95% satisfaction rate at country parks; 99.5% satisfaction with registration services; there was a record 72 prosecutions for fly-tipping last year
  • One new council would improve local access to services: with plans for around 19 locations throughout the county where people can physically access council and other public sector services
  • One council representing 500,000 residents can speak with one powerful voice to Government on its requirements (eg funding for roads) more convincingly than two councils
  • Most planning decisions would be taken by five planning committees
  • One council would have 98 councillors. This is double the number which currently exists on the county council (which currently spends around 87% of the total budget for council services), but reduces the total number of district and county councillors which stands at 236. This would save £1.2m
  • The leaders of the opposition on the county council, Aylesbury Vale District Council and Chiltern District Council all back one unitary
  • There would be a new devolution offer to town and parish councils, including the necessary funding and support. This would give local communities more control over local services

Leader of BCC, Martin Tett, said:

“Frankly, there is a straight choice facing Buckinghamshire. With one new council, we can make savings of over £18m each and every year, which can be ploughed back into local services.

“For example, we could double the amount we spend on resurfacing our roads and pavements, or invest in more affordable housing for local people.

“The other option would mean more duplication and muddle, the splitting up of key services to vulnerable people and putting our excellent education system at risk.

“The government has already examined both options and decided two small unitaries are likely to be too small to be financially viable and wouldn’t deliver the same benefits.”

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