Latest Public Sector News

19.01.17

County unveils multi-million pound saving unitary proposal

Oxfordshire County Council has proposed the abolition of all six of the county’s councils in order to create one new unitary authority for Oxfordshire.

The ‘One Oxfordshire’ proposals would involve slashing the number of councillors in the county by almost two-thirds, from 282 councillors to between 100 and 125, and the creation of ‘area’ boards which would each be represented on the unitary authority’s cabinet and have the power to introduce local council tax precepts for their area.

The county council has claimed that the move from a two-tier authority to a unitary authority would increase local accountability, with independent studies commissioned by the county and district councils estimating that it would also save councils around £100m over the first five years to boost housing and infrastructure. 

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said that councils “cannot turn [their] back” on the £100m saving, arguing that the money could be used to improve services and keep council tax low. 

“I want local government’s limited budget to be spent on improving services rather than running six separate organisations,” Cllr Hudspeth said.

“We already know residents are confused about who does what. One council for Oxfordshire would be more efficient and simpler for residents, with one phone number, one website and one point of contact.”

The two independent studies, conducted by Grant Thornton and PricewaterhouseCoopers, found initial median savings of £20.5m for the councils by reducing posts and office space and combining services, followed by further £20m savings annually as a result of the transformation.

Oxfordshire County Council accounts for the greatest amount of spending on council services in the county with revenue expenditure on services of £737m in 2016-17. The combined revenue spending of Oxford City Councils and the county’s four district councils totals £84m. 

The proposal has cross-party support on Oxfordshire County Council and has also seen feedback from an independent advisory group made up of a variety of local organisations such as the police, NHS, universities, business and the voluntary sector.

Cllr Liz Brighouse, leader of the opposition Labour group on Oxfordshire County Council, said that she wants to see housing, social care and benefits “joined up” to support those with the greatest need.

“Our big challenge for the future is to get better at prevention so people can live more independently and fewer people need costly social care,” Cllr Brighouse said. “We can only do that by joining up services for people and supporting them in their community.

“We also need to tackle the real crisis in affordable housing in Oxfordshire, which our two-tier system is failing to do.”

Along with the city and district councils, Oxfordshire County Council is actively developing a devolution proposal to government which within current arrangements would require an additional combined authority to sit above the six existing councils, with a mayor.

The county council is currently asking Oxfordshire residents for their views on the proposal. The revised proposal and public response will be considered by the county council’s cabinet on 14 March before it will be finalised and sent to the DCLG for a decision. Readers can find out more about the proposal by visiting www.oneoxfordshire.org.

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Comments

Neil Dickens   19/01/2017 at 09:24

This could be the first of many; so many district councils are limited in what they actually deliver versus their larger county council they are on the verge of becoming obsolete. As long as the savings made by slashing jobs and selling off assets are seen by residents this is a win:win; unless your a councillor who will lose a seat...

Roger Berry   19/01/2017 at 13:27

This can work, though Oxfordshire Councillors will have to be on side. Oxford and Oxfordshire have a great population and a strong two tier system. The next step beyond Unitary is taking on Health but the STP set up gets in the way a bit.

Peter   19/01/2017 at 13:49

Seems like common financial sense, or in other words, Councillors will never vote for it. Only when Councils are bankrupted and facing Section 114 Notices will the politicians accede to losing their seats and combining at a County or similar level; to slim down senior management, combine ICT platforms and radically reduce costs.

Simon   19/01/2017 at 14:12

The reference to £100m is of course intended to attract headlines, but the actual saving is £20m per year. Even this claim seems doubtful to me. The annual cost of all the district level tier is given as only £84m. It seems very unlikely to me that savings from a single tier would amount to a quarter of the entire costs of the district tier. These reports always overestimate savings, and underestimate additional costs.

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