Martin Tett: Lets think the unthinkable and change
There’s no doubt that local government faces many challenges.
From shrinking funding, rapid growth in demand for adult social care and children’s safeguarding, delivering housing growth and the necessary infrastructure, to meeting local residents’ demands for better roads and pavements.
These challenges mean local government must think the unthinkable and change.
Our proposal for a county unitary recognises the need to deliver key statutory services, such as Children’s and Adult Social Care, at scale.
It would also maintain the linkage with our excellent education system and build even stronger integration with the large range of public, voluntary and private bodies that operate at county level.
These include the local health service. The Hospital Trust is county based, the STP has a county chapter and this month our Clinical Commissioning Groups, previously two separate organisations, proposed to merge, subject to NHS approval.
Meanwhile, our two biggest colleges are also planning to come together at a county level. Our Housing Market area is the county and our businesses relate to the county, with a county LEP and a county Business Support organisation, Bucks Business First.
A county sized council will also enable us to act regionally and nationally better, with the ability to plan housing and economic growth strategically, fund essential infrastructure and play into key initiatives such as the ‘Economic Heartland’ Alliance of councils and businesses.
Locally we plan to make the most ambitious devolution offer ever to our towns and parish councils along with real local decision making on local services. For residents contact with ‘the council’ would become so much simpler, with less ‘who does what’ confusion.
All the analysis shows that a county based unitary will save the most.
Altogether this change would save at least £18 million a year which could go back into vital front line services such as Social Care and road maintenance. It would also be the simplest to implement, with no traumas of trying to split up or co-manage key statutory services.
Now is the time to put aside self-interest and do the right thing by our residents and businesses. It will be exciting!
This piece originally appeared in the MJ on January 24, 2017.