A clearly defined split has formed in Oxfordshire between district and county councils over plans for a unitary authority.
Last month, Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) unveiled its ‘One Oxfordshire’ vision which would see Oxfordshire’s district and county councils replaced with a unitary authority responsible for all council services.
But the announcement has seen deep divisions in Oxfordshire with South Oxfordshire and Vale of the White Horse district councils supporting the county council’s vision while Cherwell District Council (CDC), West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) and Oxford City Council are opposed to the proposal.
This week, WODC launched a survey – www.westoxon.gov.uk/news/feb/west-oxfordshire-too-good-to-lose/ – asking its residents their views on the ‘One Oxfordshire’ plans, claiming low council tax, free parking, improvements to the A40 and local knowledge and local voice were at risk if the unitary authority proposals went ahead.
The county’s MPs have also waded in on the debate. In a joint statement, Victoria Prentis (North Oxfordshire), Robert Courts (Witney), John Howell (Henley) and Andrew Smith (Oxford East) said with the divisions in the county, the ‘One Oxfordshire’ proposal failed the criteria for consensus drawn up by the department of communities and local government and was not supported by most of the county’s MPs.
It said: “We recognise over recent weeks there has been a lot of speculation about the future arrangement of local government across the county. We are committed to the accountability and efficiency of local government.
“But there are some red lines we would like to draw. It is essential the distinct identities of the different areas in Oxfordshire are respected, with council arrangements which are sufficiently close and meaningful that they are in touch with and accountable to local residents and their needs. This is an important issue for everyone. It is not something that can or should be rushed. Our priority is to find the best arrangement for all our constituents.”
CDC has taken its battle to social media, posting on Twitter: “CDC is actively investing in services for #children while @OxfordshireCC is closing children’s centres & impacting on families #oneoxon.”
OCC has slammed CDC’s post as ‘scare stories’ and said OCC provided 80 per cent of services to residents in Cherwell and its children’s social care had been rated as good by Ofsted.
It said: “OCC has had to make some difficult decisions as a result of reducing government funding and rising demand for children’s and adult social care. It is worrying Cllr Wood and his colleagues at Cherwell seem to have little concept of this national situation.
“Running six councils is wasteful and inefficient. That £400,000 per week of money saved could be spent on frontline services and keeping council tax down, not council bureaucracy.”