30.07.18

At-risk Leicestershire councils team up to evaluate ‘rushed’ merger plans

District and borough authorities at risk of being axed due a potential merger into a unitary authority have declared that they will adopt a “collaborative approach” for the future of services in the area.

The leaders of Blaby District Council, Charnwood Borough Council, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, Harborough Borough Council, Melton Borough Council, North West Leicestershire District Council, and Oadby and Wigston Borough Council have agreed to work together to review the current model of local government in the area after Leicestershire County Council leader Nick Rushton outlined plans to create a single supercouncil at the end of June.

Rushton has claimed his area is “simply losing out” to the power and influence of the nearby West Midlands Combined Authority and argued it was time to replace the current county council and seven district and borough councils.

In its place, Rushton argued, a unitary council would save £30m a year, simplify and improve services —as well as boosting direct links to nearby communities, towns, and parishes.

However, the district and borough authorities have now released a joint statement examining the best way of delivering local services for residents in the county and the wider East Midlands region.

The statement said: “This new collaborative approach will examine what is both cost-effective in how services may be delivered and how best to retain their link with local residents.

“Such models may mean stronger district councils working within a combined authority or having multiple unitary authorities, or whether the current structure is still the best way of delivering local services.”

It noted that the authorities had “a number of reservations” as to the model proposed by Leicestershire County Council, not least the “rushed timetable and it being too remote for local residents.”

The council leaders recognised that it may be premature to rule the merger out at this early stage, however. They invited Rushton to join in the approach to determine the best solution for residents.

Cllr Richard Blunt, leader of North West Leicestershire District Council, said: “The idea of joint authorities isn’t new in this area and other parts of the country have gone through the process. It’s very early days in this and we remain open-minded at this point.

“We support the district and county councils working to establish the best way of providing local services to local people whilst looking at the bigger picture of where we are in the region and in the country.”

Cllr Blunt went on to say that there are at least three options on the table: the councils could remain as they are now, they could create one large unitary authority, or design smaller unitary authorities across the county.

In response, Rushton said: “My Cabinet has formally agreed to develop proposals for a unitary structure of local government in Leicestershire.  It has not specified any particular proposal although I have expressed my preference for a single unitary council with delegation to town and parish councils.

“The county council will certainly look at any proposals the districts may put forward but their approach of seemingly ruling nothing out suggests that will be sometime away. I believe it is best to have some actual proposals on the table so we can begin a necessary public debate soon.”

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Image credit: Geography

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