Latest Public Sector News


Clarity needed over reorganisation discussions

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 16

Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network (CCN), explains why clarity is needed in the local government reorganisation debate.

If devolution was the buzzword for councils in 2015, debate surrounding local government reorganisation has defined 2016 so far. 

Back in December, the CCN warned that last-minute changes to devolution legislation, with government granting itself new powers to fast-track changes to the way local government is structured, could see a shift in emphasis. 

The government has been advocating ‘bottom-up’ reorganisation proposals, yet there is no criteria or direction on the type of council format it favours. 

As a result, the sector is currently gripped by rampant speculation over competing district proposals to ‘split up’ and fragment county councils into smaller unitary councils, with counties responding with proposals for creating county-wide authorities to deliver all services. 

Indeed, the changes have acted like a lightning rod for local activity in places such as Northamptonshire, Hampshire, and Oxfordshire, although in the latter’s case, discussions over council structures that transcend traditional county barriers have failed to get off the ground. 

Distraction to delivering savings 

Many, including CCN chairman Paul Carter, rightly believe that this debate is a distraction from delivering savings targets and ambitious devolution deals. CCN is neither for nor against reorganisation – it is up to our members to make the best choice for their local areas. 

If government is intent on driving through structural change, clearly there are factors that need to be considered in judging proposals. They need to be judged on whether they foster growth, sustain life-critical and frontline services in the long term, and are good value. 

County economies are the main drivers of growth in local government. They deliver 41% of England’s GVA and are responsible for 93% of all growth-related expenditure and capital investment in two-tier areas. 

Counties also lead on planning for key infrastructure, laying down the foundations for increased investment, which breeds jobs and skills. Indeed, if we are to reform who delivers services, we should look at upscaling housing and planning to upper-tier councils, so they are aligned with infrastructure planning. 

Size and scale is crucial for any infrastructure decisions. County unitaries such as Wiltshire,Cornwall, and Durham, have shown they have the strategic size and capacity to work across functional economic areas as a single entity, rather than the creation of multiple new authorities. 

Destabilising economic plans and services 

And remember, from 2020, in a new world of self-sufficiency, strong growth will be even more paramount. Any moves to destabilise and break up counties could lead to incoherent and haphazard economic plans that neglect areas. 

Additionally, proposals that seek to break up county councils could destabilise life-critical services, such as children and adult social care. Of all authorities inspected by Ofsted in 2014-15, 60% of children’s services rated ‘good’ were CCN member councils.

Authorities that have faced challenges have shown willingness to embrace reform, yielding major improvement, while partnership working has reaped rewards. Recently, there have been high-profile cases where high-performing councils have been drafted in to assist their counterparts. Why would you want to pull apart the good work that has gone into improving standards, safeguarding the most vulnerable, and the strong relationships built up? 

Counties already face a huge disparity in funding for these services compared to urban areas, set against a backdrop of rising demand. Splitting adult social care between smaller councils would divide up already insufficient funding for social care at a time when we need to be working at size and scale. 

Finally, proposals must demonstrate that they can maximise efficiency savings which could then be re-invested in growth-related and essential services. 

CCN is committed to working with all parts of the sector to deliver devolution without structural reform of councils. But we have a duty on behalf of our authorities and residents to put forward a rigorous evidence base for service delivery at size, scale, and value for money. 

Transparency is key too. Discussions on reorganisation need to be open, moving away from the current climate where they are taking place, largely, behind closed doors.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >