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15.03.17

Oxfordshire County Council to submit controversial unitary bid to DCLG

The bid to turn Oxfordshire into a unitary authority has been formally approved by Oxfordshire County Council, opening the doors for the authority to submit the proposal to DCLG later this year.

The proposal, called ‘A new council for a better Oxfordshire’, plans to abolish the two-tier structure made up of six councils in the region and instead replace it with one combined unitary authority.

The county council made the decision at a cabinet meeting yesterday, following the example of two other councils, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils, which also made the same decision in their cabinet meetings last week.

Its leader, Cllr Ian Huspeth, said: “This is a hugely important decision that reflects the shared view that the Better Oxfordshire proposal offers the best way to improve services and get the investment in roads and infrastructure that Oxfordshire urgently needs.

“A year ago, all six councils in Oxfordshire agreed on the need for change. Since then, we have looked at all the options and concluded that a single unitary council is the best form of local government for Oxfordshire.”

Choosing the status quo is a decision with “real downsides”, argued Hudspeth, adding: “It means continuing to spend money on running six councils, rather than improving council services – which is what the vast majority of residents want.”

It is estimated that the proposed transformation could save authorities £100m over the first five years, with initial savings of £20.5m coming from the reduction of council posts and office space, with £20m further efficiencies annually.

The council leader concluded: “In agreeing the revised Better Oxfordshire proposal, we are now showing that change is possible, as well as necessary.”

The latest news also comes after the South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse councils ‘u-turned’ on their stance towards the unitary proposal and said they were putting their backing behind the move – a shift other local councils described as “fickle”.

The plans to transform Oxfordshire into a unitary council have created considerable tension between local authorities after three councils publicly voiced their opposition to the proposed changes.

One of them, Oxford City Council, fought against the proposals by starting a petition to try and block the change, arguing that a unitary council would mean the individual voices of local authorities are lost.

Cllr Bob Price, leader of the city council, had said: “Our concern is that the proposals for a county council unitary will mean the voice of the City will be lost, and the vital services that Oxford City Council protects could be put at risk.”

Both the city council and the county council will be writing for the next issue of PSE (April/May), where they will outline the arguments for and against reforming the region into a unitary.

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