County council responds to unitary authorities’ proposal

OCC deputy leader Rodney Rose
OCC deputy leader Rodney Rose

Three new options for the reorganisation of council services in Oxfordshire has been put forward by the county council in response to unitary authority proposals announced this morning, Thursday.

In a statement, Oxfordshire County Council said it welcomed the district councils’ recognition that unitary councils were ‘more efficient and effective at tackling the changes facing public services’ and called for a public debate.

The original proposal suggested four unitary authorities covering Oxfordshire, south Northants and part of the Cotswolds.

Other options put forward by OCC include:

> One council providing all local authority services for all the people of Oxfordshire;

> Two or three councils providing all local authority services for all the people of Oxfordshire;

> Four councils providing all local authority services for residents of Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.

OCC deputy leader Rodney Rose said: “Oxfordshire is a historic county that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

“From a personal perspective, I would regret anything that saw that identity and heritage disappear.

“That said, our main focus must be on the best way to serve the people of Oxfordshire – whatever the council logo on their wheelie bins.

“At this time of diminished resources in local government, we need to make sure every single penny counts so we can best protect services for the people of Oxfordshire – particularly vulnerable children and adults who depend on social services. Before any deal is done, we need to know the cost to the council taxpayers of Oxfordshire.

“We welcome the opportunity to join this debate about the future of public services in Oxfordshire, and invite the partners in these proposals to explain in detail how the proposals provide better, safer services and for less money.

“We need to fully understand the implications for the people of Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire if social care is ‘lifted and shifted’ into the new combined authority, as the proposal suggests. No doubt the people of Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire will also want to understand the implications of shifting their transport responsibilities into this new combined authority.”

He called for more details on the proposal’s plans for safeguarding children, the future of the fire and rescue service for Oxfordshire, joining up health services and adult social care in Oxfordshire and planning the infrastructure required for expected growth of homes and jobs in the county.

He added: “The district councils’ proposal would mean the creation of four key council services where there is currently one relating to children and adult social services, and also for planning and delivering improvement to Oxfordshire’s transport network.

“Last year we published an independent report that showed there were greater savings from a single council for Oxfordshire than three, smaller unitary councils.

“We think there is a strong argument for reducing duplication of council functions, not increasing them. For instance the NHS locally would need to deal with four organisations not one when it comes to joining up health and adult social care services, as required by government policy.

“We look forward to proposals for future structures being compared and contrasted. However the ultimate test has to be which system is the most effective way to deliver, good, safe services for people of Oxfordshire.”