Opposition leaders unite to back one unitary council

The opposition leaders at the County Council and two district councils have united in backing plans for a new, single unitary council in Buckinghamshire.

The government announced in March that it is ‘minded-to’ implement plans for one unitary council, while adding that an alternative proposal for splitting Bucks into two unitary councils – put forward by the county’s four district councils –is ‘unlikely to improve local government in the area’.

Liberal Democrat councillors Steven Lambert, Anders Christensen and Peter Jones all agree that one, new unitary council offers the best deal for residents.

County Council opposition leader Steven Lambert said he ‘doesn’t often see eye to eye’ with the leadership at Buckinghamshire County Council, ‘but on this subject I am in total support’.

Steve, who is also a district and parish councillor, said: “When I read the business cases I was really impressed by the level of detail which the County’s proposals went into, particularly on how it would work with local communities and deliver real improvements on the ground. In contrast, the business case from the district councils was very vague.”

One council would save at least £18m every year, significantly more than the two-unitary model. Steve said this was extra money which can be used to improve services.

Steve said he spoke to a Lib Dem colleague at Wiltshire Council, which went unitary in 2009, regarding some of the proposals in the business case for one unitary. “For example, I spoke to him about the community hub proposals, which are based on a similar model in Wiltshire. They are physical offices dotted all around the county, offering local access to services. I was told these work very well in Wiltshire, they have been very popular with residents.

“There would also be community boards, enabling local decisions to be taken at a local level. A common criticism of councillors on the doorstep is that people only see us at election time. For the vast majority of us that’s just not true, but what I do know is that with these community boards and hubs in local areas, people are going to be bumping into their councillors all of the time.”

Since the Secretary of State’s announcement, the County Council has held meetings with town and parish councillors to hear their views. Steve has joined County Council leader Martin Tett on the panel.

He said: “I have been challenged by some people who don’t think it’s appropriate for me to so publicly support the proposals. But this is not about party politics – it is about what is right for our residents.”

Steve, who is calling on people to give their views to the Government, is joined by the opposition leaders at Aylesbury Vale District Council and Chiltern District Council, Anders Christensen and Peter Jones, in supporting the proposals for one unitary.

Peter said: “It comes down to costs and services and I am convinced that one authority will be run at lower cost which would leave more money for services.

“Ultimately, we are all elected to look after our residents’ best interests and I think there are lots of benefits going to one authority and lots of drawbacks going to two, which the people who argue for two are remarkably silent on.

“Nobody is really talking about how we split up services that are currently provided by the County Council if you went to two authorities, and nobody is saying why that would make them any better.”

Anders said: “There are some key services that are better done at large scale. Roads and transport is one, children’s services is the second, and adult social care is the third.

“From my point of view, one of the big selling points from the County Council’s proposals is the promise of a devolution offer to town and parish councils.

“They are largely non-political; they are made up of residents and villagers, they know what they need and what they want. To give people the budget and power is a massive deal.”

Anders said a single unitary council would offer better services, and residents would prefer the simplicity of knowing who was responsible for those services.

People have until May 25 to submit their views to the Government, by emailing  james.brokenshire@communities.gsi.gov.uk

You can find out more about the proposals at www.futurebucks.co.uk

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