The deadline for submitting comments to the Government on its minded-to decision for a single unitary council in Buckinghamshire has now passed. We await the Secretary of State’s final decision in due course.
Here’s what other people are saying about our proposal for a new, single unitary council:
Michael Garvey, Chairman of Buckinghamshire Business First and Managing Director of property consultants Chandler Garvey
“A new single unitary is the Government’s choice and having reviewed all the arguments I am persuaded that this is the right choice.
“Two unitary councils are unnecessarily costly, and a fragmented Buckinghamshire will have less strategic importance and in the long run this will be damaging for businesses in the county.
“The suggestion that a single council will be remote from residents and businesses is simply scaremongering and inaccurate and the single unitary proposal addresses this head on with practical solutions.”
Cllr Steven Lambert, leader of the opposition at Buckinghamshire County Council:
“As Liberal Democrat leader of the opposition at Buckinghamshire County Council, it’s fair to say I’ve not always seen eye to eye with its Conservative leader, Martin Tett.
But on the advantages of having one new, single authority for Buckinghamshire, I am in complete support.
When I arrived to Buckinghamshire from London I couldn’t believe that such a confusing mess of multiple district and county councils still actually existed.
In 2016, when the County Council proposed one new county-wide unitary council and the districts proposed a north-south split, I had a choice to make – not least because I am also a district (and parish) councillor.
After reading the two proposals, my decision was easy. The business case for the single unitary council is very robust, particularly on how the new authority would work with local communities and deliver real improvements on the ground. In contrast, the district case has a lot of unknowns.”
Baroness Jane Scott, leader of Wiltshire Council (which went unitary in 2009):
“Speak to any [Wiltshire] councillor and they will tell you they wouldn’t turn back the clock – and that includes former district council leaders. Talk to any MP, and they will tell you how we have been able to maintain frontline services at a time of severe financial restraint. Talk to any business leader, and they will tell you a single council has allowed us to work constructively with our all our partners to promote our economy and secure investment. It’s a story repeated by the rest of those who went unitary in 2009.”
Cllr Peter Jones, leader of the opposition on Chiltern District Council:
“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.”
Cllr John Chilver, a district and county councillor:
“Everyone agrees we can’t go on with the complicated and bureaucratic system of district and county councils. Yet proponents of two councils are remarkably silent about what the Government said about their plans – that they are unlikely to work, make enough savings or be sustainable.
“On April 26, the Government re-iterated that new unitary councils need to have a population ‘as a minimum substantially in excess of 300,000’. Even with planned housing growth, an Aylesbury Vale council would fall below that figure.
“Two councils are not a credible alternative. The reality is, we can either have one new county-wide council which has real plans to make things local, or the status quo of this out-dated, confusing system.”
Cllr Anders Christensen, leader of the opposition on Aylesbury Vale District Council:
“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.”
Alex Pratt OBE, local business leader and former chairman of Buckinghamshire Business First:
“Buckinghamshire deserves all the good government we can afford and our business community wholeheartedly supports efficient local government and public services. Today’s decision, subject to the outcome of the period of representations, will help ensure best use is made of taxpayer’s money for the benefit of businesses and residents alike. Buckinghamshire Business First look forward to working alongside all of our local authority partners in supporting a smooth transition to the new unitary arrangements.
“A report commissioned in 2014 by Buckinghamshire Business First suggested that over £20m a year could be saved by streamlining the county’s five local authorities into one. The research, conducted by Ernst & Young, concluded that annual savings of £20.7m could be made, as well as a potential five year net saving of over £58m.
“Buckinghamshire Business First will work constructively to bring the collective business voice in Bucks to bear in support of the creation of a new local government arrangement that helps better power our local economy and support our community.”
David Lidington, MP:
“Local government in Buckinghamshire faces its biggest shake-up for decades following the decision by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to abolish the current County and District Councils in favour of a single, unitary council for the whole of Bucks.
“All the existing local authorities had agreed that the current two-tier division was unsustainable.
“The debate was not whether to keep the present system but whether to have one unitary council or two ( one for Aylesbury Vale and the second covering the other three Districts). The argument for a single council was partly financial.
“The management and administrative costs of one council will be less than those of two, let alone the five we have now.
“A unitary council will also be more clearly accountable for its policies and decisions. Under the present system, the District Council bills us for our Council Tax even though most of the revenue from that tax goes to the County.
“The District takes decisions about housing and planning but the County Council that has to plan for roads, schools and social services. Our rubbish is collected by the District but it’s the County that has to dispose of it and which runs the local recycling centres.
“Getting rid of that confusion will be a good thing. With a unitary authority we will all know exactly which council to praise or blame for our local services.
“The strongest argument made by the champions of two unitary authorities was that the extra cost of their preferred option was outweighed by the greater sense of local identity and accountability that having two councils would bring. The new single unitary council will need to make it a priority to ensure that every parish and neighbourhood has a voice.
“Another key objective must be to improve further the links between local social services and the NHS in Bucks.
“The Government’s decision will please some and disappoint others, but I hope that all our local councils and other organisations will now get on with making the transition as smooth as possible and ensuring that the new system works well.”
Simon Edwards, County Council Network Director:
“CCN welcomes the bold decision from the Secretary of State, who is minded to approve reorganisation proposals in Buckinghamshire to abolish all councils and create a county unitary.
“Today’s announcement is the right solution, backed by up by a clear argument and compelling evidence from the county council.
“Our independent research, and the recent ResPublica report, shows there to be significant financial, economic and public service reform benefits for those willing to pursue restructuring at scale, as well as pushing the door open for county devolution. Clearly, these arguments were persuasive for the Secretary of State to make this minded-to decision.
“Buckinghamshire put together an attractive proposal that gained the support of residents and politicians alike, and their ambitious plans will allow them to better adapt to the challenges facing local authorities in modern times. Importantly, this option was chosen ahead of breaking up and fragmenting the county; it is county boundaries that have the size and scale necessary to retain and reform crucial frontline public services so they work better for residents, whilst offering the best scope for financial savings.
“We look forward to working with Buckinghamshire during the transition and welcoming the new authority into the county unitary family at CCN.”