UPDATED: County orders business case for Bucks super council bid
Examining the business case for a money-saving super council was approved by Bucks County cabinet members this week.
Leader Martin Tett put forward the proposal to create a business case for a single authority for the whole of Bucks, effectively scrapping all district councils.
The move would also give more devolved powers to town and parish councils.
Proposing the £50,000 fact finding report, Mr Tett said: “Let’s be clear about the process, what we are agreeing is the production of a business case. The future beyond that business case may involve consultation with various groups, it might involve consultation with business groups and residents groups, town and parish councils and it will certainly include consultations with district councils.
“It’s not clear yet what will happen in the business case and what the outcome will be, it might decide that there is no business case for a unitary council in Buckinghamshire.”
Cabinet members also offered their support for a unitary authority, including Lin Hazell, portfolio holder for the authority’s beleaguered children’s services department.
She said: “The service that I manage as we all know is under considerable financial pressure. At the moment we are really struggling.But this is not just a financially driven scenario here, this is to get a collaboration between the whole of the county and it shouldn’t be looked at as a takeover bid, this is the problem I think we’ve had.”
Cabinet members said a single unitary council would preserve the ‘collective sense of history’ for the county of Buckinghamshire but also recognised the need to get right the balance between economies of scale and ensuring that the needs of local communities are met.
Mr Tett said: “Combined with the significant cost-savings to be gained over the medium term from economies of scale, a single unitary council model is a compelling option and one that should be ‘on the table’ for consideration.”
The council says the aim is for the business case to be completed within the next three months, ready to be considered by cabinet in September 2016.
There is then the potential for an Independent Commission to be establishedwhich would look at various unitary options, including rival proposals to split the county into north and south authorities.
It could include an independent chairman, town and parish councils and representatives from the local business community, and could also incorporate a public consultation process.
Mr Tett added: “We’ve already seen new types of councils developed in other parts of the country and the benefits they have brought to residents, and it’s the right time now for Buckinghamshire to consider its future.
“Collaboration is the key to the process of modernising local government; and we want to work together with all our partners - district councils, town and parish councils, businesses, health and police colleagues and others.
Andrew Smith, chairman of Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Economic Partnership, said: “I welcome the decision by Buckinghamshire County Council to commission a business case looking into the options for local governance in Buckinghamshire and the opportunity to actively participate in an independent, evidence-based review to assess all possible options.
“I am in no doubt the review will be supported by the vast majority of Buckinghamshire residents, businesses and key strategic stakeholders who have a direct interest in the delivery of local services.
“As a strong partnership involving public and private sector colleagues working together, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP is uniquely placed to play an important part in the review.”
Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, a network of 37 councils that serve county areas said: “Independent studies suggest that the option of a single county unitary secures on average almost double the efficiency savings for local taxpayers compared to competing proposals. Any moves to fragment and break-up councils could destabilise children and adult social care services, and CCN believes that county councils, with a proven track record of delivering success, can ensure these life critical services are sustainable and safe in the long term.”