Business chiefs back a unitary authority bid

Greg Clark MP visits Westcott Venture Park to sign Growth Deal Agreement. Greg Clark MP, left, and Alex Pratt OBE, BTVLEP, signing. PNL-150901-135557009
Greg Clark MP visits Westcott Venture Park to sign Growth Deal Agreement. Greg Clark MP, left, and Alex Pratt OBE, BTVLEP, signing. PNL-150901-135557009

Business leaders say that a unitary authority would be best for Bucks, and have called for councillors to co-operate on a bid.

Bucks Business First, which has already commissioned a report into the benefits of a unitary authority, says that having a rethink on council structure will not only benefit businesses, but will also benefit the public at large.

The group’s chairman Alex Pratt, whose Bierton-based firm Serious Readers is going from strength to strength, said: “The underlying fact is that everyone knows it has to happen, and nobody is for the status quo as it is, it’s just deciding what the arrangements would be.

“One of the things that got in the way last time was that because Bucks as a county has always been Tory, there is a view that if we only had one council with fewer councillors there would be fewer people supporting that party. There is a view that unitary would not be a good idea in political terms.”

He added: “There are also major differences of opinion between politicians. Aylesbury Vale District Council wants to go unitary and doesn’t seem to care about the other districts. But there has to be a solution for all parts of the county.”

But Mr Pratt said that soon all of the authorities may have their hands forced, and be made to sit around the table by central government.

He said: “Now the pressure is such from central government that people are being forced.

“The sticks and the carrots are so big that people are being forced.”

Laying out the benefits, Mr Pratt said: “Bearing in mind that local business rates come into the remit of local authorities a change would be highly relevant for businesses.

“I honestly don’t know what council does what. Who do you talk to for planning, who do you talk to for roads?

“The system as it is, is too complicated and slow to come to decisions and this hampers businesses.

“Other parts of the country have come together in terms of local government reform and they are benefitting from millions in investments from the Government that we are not receiving.”

Earlier this month, and elsewhere in the business world, the Buckinghamshire and Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership, wrote an open letter to this newspaper on the subject of local government reform.

The letter signals that all parts of the county’s business community are getting behind the Bucks Herald campaign.

It read: ““Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (BTVLEP), welcomes a mature and open debate around a review of local arrangements in Buckinghamshire. We hope all stakeholders will play an active part in the debate to ensure that all options are considered for the benefit of residents and the business community of Buckinghamshire as a whole.

“The clear message that Government has been giving us over the past 12 months has been to encourage closer collaboration within a locality building on strong foundations already in place. This will be an essential factor in securing future national funding for Buckinghamshire.

“This closer alignment in Buckinghamshire will support our influence across a wider geography, ensuring that our area can benefit fully from national infrastructure initiatives and sub-regional partnerships.”

The letter was sent on behalf of all members by chairman, Andrew Smith.