Case studies

Don’t just take our word for it. Successful examples of county-wide unitary councils include:

Wiltshire Council


(Scroll below for videos of Wiltshire leader Baroness Scott and former district council leader Richard Tonge).

  • Created in 2009 from Wiltshire County Council and four district councils.
  • £25m in annual savings.
  • Savings of more than £120m in first five years.
  • Back office costs reduced to 7% of budget as opposed to 19% for the former councils.
  • Reduction in premises saves £5m per year in running costs and generated £85m in property sales.
  • New ‘area boards’ manage local service delivery and decisions.

I would say to the people of Buckinghamshire that Wiltshire Council did it back in 2009 and we have been able to save over £100m and have recurring year-on-year savings.

We have been able to protect frontline services and we are now much simpler for people to do business with.

Many, many people have come to me and said ‘we didn’t agree with it but actually you were right, it works very well’.

In Wiltshire you have got to remember that 30 per cent of the people thought there was only one council in the first place. This is not about organisations, councillors and officers, this is about services to the people we represent.”

Wiltshire Council leader Baroness Scott of Bybrook OBE

Watch the videos below for Wiltshire leader Baroness Scott explaining how a new, single council would benefit Buckinghamshire, and, beneath that, former North Wiltshire District Council leader Richard Tonge giving his perspective on the changes.

An independent review of Wiltshire Council by the Local Government Association, published in 2013 said:

Wiltshire Council has had a good first four years from becoming a Unitary Council in April 2009.

It was guided by a strong vision of making the transition easy and seamless for customers, and using it as an opportunity to re-think how the council will (and can afford to) work with communities and partners. Wiltshire Council has a good reputation in the community.

Parish and Town Councils, volunteers and voluntary sector organisations we spoke with speak positively about the purposeful intent of the council to delegate responsibilities and enable local people and groups to do more for themselves.

The introduction of 18 Area Boards has been successful. Area Boards are well supported and attract significant numbers of local people.

They are a key part of the Council’s organisational plan to becoming a smaller central core with a wider web of local service provision. The Council has maximised the opportunity of moulding five organisations into one to a distinct financial advantage.”

Durham County Council



  • Created in 2009 from the county council and eight district councils.
  • £21m in annual savings.
  • Council of the Year in 2014 in the Local Government Chronicle Awards. Judges praised Durham’s work in supporting businesses, transferring community assets to voluntary and other groups, engaging with its staff and the public and contributing to the development of the region.
  • Survey carried out two years after going unitary showed massive 37% increase in customer satisfaction from previous surveys under the old district/county model. Nearly 60% said they were satisfied the council offered value for money, 12% higher than the 2009 survey. Overall, 88% of residents were satisfied with their local area as a place to live, 12% up on 2009, and five per cent higher than the national benchmark.
  • An independent report by the Local Government Association in 2012 said: “It is a tribute to all concerned that the transition was successful and that we see a self-confident Authority dealing effectively with the massive challenges which face it and wider local government.”

The decision to create a unitary council in 2009, from eight previous councils, was a significant moment for the people of County Durham and one that has clearly proven to be the right thing to do.

It has meant we are now punching our weight regionally and nationally, have been able to improve services across the board, put a real focus on regeneration to improve the opportunities for those who live and work in the county and has put us in a really stronger position to manage the impacts of the government’s austerity programme.

We have been able to prove that a council that provides services to over 500,000 residents in a large rural county with over 13 main settlements, can still be very successful at local community engagement and through our award-winning Area Action Partnerships, we have developed a model that engages local people and makes a difference to where they live.”

Durham leader, Cllr Simon Henig