SNC to be left out of devolution discussion

South Northants Council offices
South Northants Council offices

South Northants Council (SNC) is to be left out of discussions over the reorganisation of local government in Oxfordshire.

District councils in the county as well as SNC and Cotswold District Council, had commissioned PwC to look at how to simplify local government.

One of the options included the creation of four new unitary councils, including a UA pairing up Cherwell and SNC and a UA pairing up West Oxfordshire and Cotswold district councils.

But the group of seven councils has now decided collectively to rule out cross-county boundary options after early conversations between PwC and senior civil servants.

Early findings by PwC were that cross-boundary unitary options were too complicated at this stage, and would result in lengthy delays to the devolution process.

District council proposals would replace the current Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) and district councils with new district unitaries.

Responsibilities currently administered by the county council would be devolved to the new district unitaries.

Where strategic decisions that require coordination across Oxfordshire are needed – such as transport planning, economic development and social care – the elected leaders of the new district unitaries will work together to agree solutions.

Matthew Barber, leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “Eliminating cross-boundary options now enables PwC’s independent study to focus solely on Oxfordshire’s residents and engaging with stakeholders in the county.

“Oxfordshire deserves a model of government that will give power to local people, not a one-size-fits-all model for all of Oxfordshire that will deprive people of the power to shape their local area.

“The district unitaries will give people a real say in how their communities are run, which I think should be the bottom line when it comes to reorganising our local government. It will give power to the people of Oxfordshire.”

Meanwhile consultants appointed by OCC to conduct their own review, Grant Thornton UK LLP, is asking the public, voluntary groups and public service providers to contribute to its study.

Grant Thornton is looking to identify the model for local government that provides the best services and value to council tax payers and business rate payers in Oxfordshire, and offers savings.

Views can be submitted online at www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/oxfordshire-evidence or to Local Government Advisory, 5th Floor, Grant Thornton House, Melton Street, Euston Square, London, NW1 2EP.

Ian Hudspeth, leader of OCC, said: “The debate about local government reform is well and truly underway in Oxfordshire. Before the county council makes up its mind about the best solution, we want to make sure the public has their say.

“Any change has to be in the best interests of service users and the county as a whole, which is why we want to involve the public. Grant Thornton are experts in local government funding and service delivery, but it is the people of Oxfordshire who know what is best for the county.”

Grant Thornton is particularly looking for views on local government structures that would improve the provision of local services, particularly for the vulnerable; would save cash and provide value for money; provide stronger and more accountable leadership; drive economic growth and meet the infrastructure challenge, and; would engage with communities and empower local areas.