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26.02.16

Unitary authority proposal could see Oxfordshire CC abolition

David Cameron’s local county council is facing closure, with plans for the current two-tier system being replaced by four unitary councils following high-profile rows over funding.

The devolutionary proposal from local authorities would see the abolition of Oxfordshire County Council, with its services transferring to four new unitary authorities.

A new Southern Oxfordshire Unitary Authority would cover the area currently administered by Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils; an Oxford City Unitary Authority would replace Oxford City Council; a West Oxfordshire-Cotswold Unitary Authority would take over the area for West Oxfordshire District Council; and Cotswold District Council and a Cherwell-South Northants Unitary Authority would replace Cherwell District Council and South Northamptonshire Council.

The proposal comes after Cameron has twice written to his local council about funding cuts brought about by his own government’s policy, leading to accusations that the prime minister breached ministerial code by appearing to offer civil service help.

Cameron said: “West Oxfordshire is one of the best run and most cost effective councils in the country and we are, after all, the gateway to the Cotswolds so I see a lot of advantages in exploring this option.”

Oxfordshire CC deputy leader Rodney Rose told BBC Oxfordshire: “I would regret anything that saw [Oxfordshire's] identity and heritage disappear. That said, our main focus must be on the best way to serve the people of Oxfordshire.

"Before any deal is done, we need to know the cost to the council taxpayers of Oxfordshire."

The impact of cuts in Oxfordshire was apparent this week when a new campaign, ‘Support people with HIV: Stop the cuts’ warned £50,000 cuts mean it will lose all HIV support services.

The results of a Local Government Information Unit survey warned last week that local councils across the country have said they’ll have to cut services, increase charges and dip into reserves to balance the books in 2016-17.

Vale of White Horse leader Councillor Matthew Barber said: “This devolution deal is a fantastic opportunity for Oxfordshire and we believe we should do everything possible to secure much needed investment for the benefit of residents, businesses and communities.

“Local Unitary Councils working together through a Combined Authority offer the best solution for the people of Oxfordshire. It will allow decision-making and service delivery to better reflect the different challenges and priorities of the people we serve. It will also build on the District Councils’ strong track record of sound financial planning and efficiency that are at the heart of good governance and effective service delivery.

“It is important to establish from the outset that we do not support a ‘lift, shift and divide’ in terms of County Council services as this would simply move financial burdens from one organisation to another. As districts we have spent the past years delivering increasing efficiencies, transforming our services, creating shared teams, adopting flexible structures and a commercial approach. Simply dividing up county council services would not allow us to achieve the transformation needed. We will form new Local Unitary Councils and introduce new models of commissioning and delivery to transform public services for the better.”

(Image c. Isabel Infantes from EMPICS Entertainment)

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