Ominous start for Buckinghamshire unitary council after appointment of interim leadership raises concerns

Aylesbury Vale District Council Cabinet
Aylesbury Vale District Council Cabinet

The Secretary of State for Local Government, James Brokenshire, has been accused of using an undemocratic process in appointing the leadership of the interim Unitary Council last week.

The decision for Buckinghamshire to move to a single Unitary authority, incorporating the district councils of Aylesbury Vale (AVDC), Wycombe, Chiltern and South Bucks as well as Buckinghamshire County Council (with Milton Keynes remaining autonomous) was taken in November last year.

Local Government Minister, James Brokenshire

Local Government Minister, James Brokenshire

Following this decision, the structure that will set out the arrangements for the transition to the new Council in 2020 was announced on 10 January.

The news has not landed without controversy, as the leadership of the so-called Shadow council has been appointed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government without local councillors getting a vote.

Angela MacPherson, leader of AVDC, said: “The one area we felt wasn't democratic was the make up of the shadow executive and we don't believe this is the best way to start off with equal parity.”

In May 2018, Ministers had explained in the House of Commons that the Government's policy is that it will not seek to impose top-down solutions on local government.

A spokesperson for the Office of James Brokenshire said: "In making these decisions the Secretary of State has carefully considered representations from both the county and district councils in Buckinghamshire.

“The Secretary of State has balanced those differing views in his decision to implement the proposal for a single unitary council, and to enable effective implementation and stability of key social care services, taking particular note of the recommendations of the Children’s Commissioner.”

The AVDC cabinet met on the evening of 10 January and unanimously voted not to give consent to the setup of the transition team.

Mrs MacPherson confirmed: “All we can do is vote not to give consent and following on from that I will write to the secretary of state, as I'm sure the other leaders will too.”

District councillor Robin Stuchbury was typically somewhat more vociferous in his response: “This most recent decision to impose a leader on a new authority mirrors the undemocratic nature of Government decisions in recent times relating to Buckinghamshire. Poor judgement and lack of democracy seems to be the flavour from Westminster.”

The new council, which will consist of 147 members – three councillors for each ward - will be launched in April 2020 with fresh elections taking place in May 2020.

Commenting on his appointment to this paper, the new shadow executive chairman Martin Tett said: “This is a decision by the Secretary of State and as a council we will abide by that decision,” adding, “There are very challenging timescales so we need to all unite to implement this for the people of Buckinghamshire."