Martin Tett: “A new council that’s super-local and super-sized”
It’s understandable that some people might think of a single, county-wide unitary as a ‘super-council’; a monolithic organisation making decisions very remotely from local people.
When my colleagues and I were developing our business case for a single unitary for Buckinghamshire, I was extremely conscious of this.
A single county-wide unitary would save taxpayers many millions of pounds at a time of severe financial pressures and would simplify the system through a ‘one-stop shop’ approach for residents and businesses.
The challenge was to develop a model that balanced all of these benefits with ensuring the strategic capacity to drive growth and deliver housing and infrastructure and with the critical need to connect deeply with the population.
We have achieved this with radical plans to bring the new council closer to residents and empower communities to make their own decisions on the public services in their areas, building on best practice from Buckinghamshire and across the sector.
We have plans for a network of 19 multi-agency community hubs that would enable people to talk to someone from the council in a town or village near to where they live, right across the county. The hubs would provide a base for a number of public services, including the new Buckinghamshire Council. Co-locating multi-agency teams in this way will encourage joined-up working.
We would introduce 19 community boards to serve Buckinghamshire’s towns and villages, enabling local councillors to take decisions on the things that affect their areas such as parks, libraries and local road maintenance.
They would meet regularly in each area and the public would be encouraged to attend alongside town and parish councils, police, fire and health organisations. These local boards will mean that the all-important ‘liveability’ services that people use every day would be under the control of the people that use them.
At the same time, we could offer far greater responsibility to town or parish councils to give real local decision-making. These councils could take on more services and community assets if they choose to, from public toilets and parks to support for the isolated and footpath repairs. Of course we would fully support this with the associated devolved funding and support for councils to build capacity.
This plan would provide the scale to deliver the greatest financial savings; the resilience to manage the growing demand in social care services; and the strategic leadership to build the effective alliances with local, regional and national partners we need to promote the prosperity and wellbeing of our residents and businesses.
Opinion piece by Buckinghamshire County Council leader Martin Tett, first published in the Local Government Chronicle