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Counties and districts clash over suggestion to scrap two-tier authorities

A report suggesting that scrapping district councils could save £2.9bn a year has prompted anger from the District Councils Network (DCN).

Research, carried out by independent think-tank ResPublica, has suggested that a switch away from two-tier authorities to single unitary bodies could be a more efficient use of funds.

Devolution would also save money across councils, the report said, with a total of £11.7bn predicted to be gained from integrating public services into local responsibilities.

County councils would be central to the plans offered by the study, with many of the unified authorities coming from the reorganisation of county systems. Due to this, the report suggests councils should begin the devolution process by offering similar powers to those being made available in the city-regions.

Although it advocated for integration of the two sets of services – claiming it could enable additional growth of up to £31bn over the next five years – ResPublica said reorganisation “should not mean the supremacy of one form of government over another”.

However, Cllr John Fuller, chairman of the DCN, said the report focused on a “sterile and tiresome debate” without recognising the needs of local people.

“Districts have long demonstrated their appetite for increased devolution and the transformation of local government in localities,” he added.

“The recent ‘minded to’ announcement in relation to recent transformation proposals this month demonstrates the government’s support for locally-led transformation.

“The initial criteria set out to measure these proposals, in particular the emphasis on local support and credible geographies, are vital principles.

“These principles reflect the DCN’s long held position that local government transformation should be driven by bottom up solutions, that drive growth and improve people’s lives, whilst operating at a functional economic geography that makes sense to residents and which transforms service delivery.”

Counties welcome report

With heavy focus on the power of counties within ResPublica’s proposed new system, Cllr Paul Carter, chairman of the County Councils Network (CCN), applauded the report and said this kind of devolution was shown to benefit the country despite recent fears over Brexit and public services.

He commented: “As ResPublica argues, reformed two-tier structures could provide the pathway to empower counties. These ‘strategic authorities’ would be led by the county council, using their scale over a county geography to make decisions on growth, housing, planning, plus rate-setting abilities.

“For those who wish to pursue more radical reform, this report clearly illustrates the huge economic and public service benefits of streamlining complex local government structures into singular county unitary authorities.

“Both models will enable counties to rise to challenges both nationally and locally; saving billions through public sector savings and allowing local areas to grow their economies and deliver the government’s housing ambitions.”

Currently, there are 27 county councils in England that are part of two-tier structures, under the plans of today’s report, they would all become singular unitary authorities.

Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica, said: “The needless confusion that frustrates the ambitions of business and government alike in our county areas must end now.

“With Brexit on the horizon and our city-regions already benefitting from devolution, we can’t afford the waste and complication that the current system creates. Single councils at the county scale are the future and we call on the government to move rapidly to encourage them.”

Top image: Dave Bevis

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Barry   20/11/2017 at 21:11

Here we go again !!! People want "local" to mean local not some ivory tower 40 or 50 miles down the road

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