Debate continues over council reform

Oxfordshire unitary map NNL-160721-144940001
Oxfordshire unitary map NNL-160721-144940001

The debate over the best model for local government in Oxfordshire has flared up again.

Both parties in the debate – Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) and the county’s district councils ­– have restated their positions after a meeting of OCC’s performance scrutiny committee on Tuesday.

OCC’s position on local government reform is one unitary council is best while the district councils favour a three unitary model.

The committee meeting considered the two recently released reports on local government reform from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton.

Issues raised by the committee included the need to understand views of residents and partners and that some services need a whole county approach. The issues will be discussed by OCC’s cabinet on September 20.

OCC leader, Ian Hudspeth, said both reports showed more than £100m could be saved over five years with one council while three councils would save less. He said: “As the leader of the county council I feel it would be a clear dereliction of my duty to Oxfordshire residents and businesses not to fully consider and explore this issue.”

He added: “We remain very interested in finding consensus and further exploring common ground – including potentially around the option six outlined in the Grant Thornton report, which talks about a single unitary council but with the current boundaries of the city and district councils preserved in the form of area boards or committees with delegated powers and responsibilities.”

But speaking on behalf of the district and city councils, James Mills, leader of West Oxfordshire District Council said: “The county council’s conclusion we should create a single unitary authority is deeply flawed. It could mean up to a 20 per cent increase in council tax for residents in Vale of White Horse, South Oxfordshire, Cherwell and West Oxfordshire over five years without any increase in investment in services in their area. It would remove local democratic accountability by creating England’s biggest unitary shire council that would fail to recognise the different needs of communities across the county.”

He said by ‘going it alone’ OCC was ‘putting at risk the opportunity to secure a devolution deal with central government that could deliver millions of pounds in devolved funds to Oxfordshire.’