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20.01.15

Oxfordshire council calls for county-wide unitary authority

Oxfordshire County Council has released a report calling for a county-wide unitary authority to save up to £32.5m a year, but the county’s second-tier councils have rejected the proposals.

One city councillor called them "an ill-disguised bid to grab the carefully managed resources of the districts to plug holes in [the county council’s] budget".

The report come as the county council’s Cabinet recommends a budget for 2015-16 which requires more than £20m of savings, on top of the £265m either made or already planned by 2017-18.

The report says that £32.5m of savings could be made by combining the county, four districts and city council into a single unitary. It concludes that savings could be made by reducing the number of chief executives and senior managers that are duplicated across several councils, reducing the number of councillors and their costs and pooling council reserves.

The report also claims that a merger would potentially lower council tax for 80% of Oxfordshire’s residents to the current lowest rate in the county, while also simplifying issues for residents who would only need to look to one authority to find answers to their problems.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “We are beyond the point where further savings can be achieved by finding more efficiencies or ‘salami slicing’ of services and we must find a different way of being able to provide essential services to our residents.”

He added: “After looking at all the options for reducing our costs and still needing to find more savings it was clear we needed a game-changer to protect frontline services in the longer-term. Creating one council for Oxfordshire could well be that game-changer and we need to have a debate about that.

“By saving £33m a year, which means council tax could be reduced, I would argue this presents the best deal for Oxfordshire residents. It would also create a once-in-a-generation chance to invest in Oxfordshire’s transport network, including road and public transport improvements.”

However the district and city councils have not responded favourably to the report. Cllr Bob Price, Labour leader of Oxford City Council commented: "Instead of wasting its money – and everyone else's time – the county council should be using its influence to reverse the harsh cuts in government funding.

"It's particularly disappointing that the county council – which is currently slashing crucial services for elderly, disabled and homeless people – is wasting resources on this exercise. There is a funding problem not a structural problem for counties."

He added that Oxfordshire should perhaps take a lesson from the NHS which underwent a £3bn reorganisation and is now facing its biggest crisis yet.

Leaders of Cherwell, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and West Oxfordshire District Councils have also issued a joint statement in opposition to a unitary bid.

They also criticised the report being carried out at taxpayers’ expense, adding that it was “written using high-level assumptions and having no regard to actual service delivery arrangements on the ground”.

The statement continued: “All four rural districts are at the vanguard of modern, innovative and sustainable solutions that have already delivered, and will continue to deliver, significant and increasing savings for their local taxpayers. 

“Even a cursory review of the figures provided by the consultants indicates that the savings at £33m are vastly overstated and the costs of implementation significantly understated, yet the county council consistently use the highest figure in respect of the savings even when the consultants, with their flawed logic, give a range.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

R Lawrence   01/03/2016 at 20:12

As a North Oxfordshire resident I believe that the current setup is far from perfect with considerable scope for improvement but this proposal will be worse, leading to reduced efficiency. And (having moved from West Oxfordshire) I have the misfortune to live within Cherwell DC which is VERY BADLY RUN. I'd start by getting rid of Cherwell DC.

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