‘We want to break free’: Vale to claim independence from Bucks?

Cllr Neil Blake of Aylesbury Vale District Council ENGPNL00120140602140454
Cllr Neil Blake of Aylesbury Vale District Council ENGPNL00120140602140454

Aylesbury Vale District Council wants to go it alone – and a public vote on the plans could take place as early as next year.

Council leader Neil Blake announced plans for a unitary authority this afternoon, and claimed the shake-up could be more financially viable for taxpayers.

View - AVDC offices, The Gateway, Aylesbury

View - AVDC offices, The Gateway, Aylesbury

Under the plans, which are supported by council opposition leaders, the district would break free from the county, and take responsibility for key departments including children’s services and transport in the Vale.

Mr Blake admitted that Bucks County Council, which would be severely affected by the change, had not be consulted before the announcement, on the day it unveiled plans to work more closely with Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire councils.

Mr Blake said: “It’s been clear to us for some time, that the only way we can put the interests of local people first, is by changing the way we are organised and how we deliver services.

“However, that’s not enough. We need to have a step change in how we deliver services to our community. We have a proven track record of transforming the services that we provide, making them more efficient, cost effective and customer focussed.

“These same principles will obviously need to be applied in the new unitary authority.”

He added: “There are also some challenges that are specific to Aylesbury Vale. The vast majority of future housing and employment growth across the county area will be in the Vale, and we want to be sure that we can manage that growth to achieve the maximum benefit for local residents and businesses.

“We believe that’s going to be more difficult to achieve within the current structure of local government where, inevitably, the resources of the county council have to be spread further afield.

“We are open minded about how the detail of a unitary council might operate.

“The most important thing to do now is to start the debate with the local community and explore what choices would work best.”

Aylesbury Vale is the second largest district in the country with a population of 182,000. Mr Blake cited success stories for councils such as Bedford Borough and Windsor and Maidenhead, and claimed that the decision was not a party political one.

He said: “We would look to take over the majority of services that are currently run by the county council.

“It could be argued that we do not have a track record of running these services, but we do have a track record of success.”

He added: “This is not about the Conservative administration electioneering. Every group at the council is supportive of this unitary proposal, and what is important is what is best for residents in the Vale.

“We don’t have a vested interest because we could all be out of a job when the new unitary is formed, but what’s important is that residents get a much better deal.”

The council will now make as case for the shake-up, which would then be put before a public referendum as early as next year.

This vote cannot take place at the same time as the general election, but it was claimed that it could take place after the new government is formed.

Of the current 55 unitary authorities, nearly 90% are district based. There are already 20 existing unitary councils with smaller populations than Aylesbury Vale.