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Plans for controversial Oxfordshire unitary bid submitted to DCLG

Proposals to form a unitary Oxfordshire council have been formally submitted to the DCLG by three councils in the region, Oxfordshire County Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and South Oxfordshire District Council.

The plans, ‘A new council for a Better Oxfordshire’, will seek to combine the six authorities in the area into a unitary authority that will make decisions and implement plans for the whole region, and has recently caused division between councils in the county.  

This development follows the plans being published earlier this month prior to confirmation that the document would be sent to DCLG for consultation.

A joint statement from council leaders Ian Hudspeth (Oxfordshire County), Matthew Barber (Vale of White Horse District) and John Cotton (South Oxfordshire) stated: “Our three councils have listened to the views of residents, businesses and other organisations across Oxfordshire and worked hard to address any concerns in the final bid - and with seventy percent of those surveyed showing support for a single unitary, we know we are on the right track.

The council leaders stated that this was a “significant moment” for the communities of Oxfordshire, adding that “under a new single council will receive better, simpler joined up services, saving taxpayers millions of pounds each year and ensuring good quality services for generations to come”.

They argued that reorganisation was vital to protect council services from Whitehall funding cuts, and also to secure the investment in infrastructure needed to support sustainable economic growth in Oxfordshire.

“It is expected that the government will make a final decision on our proposal later this year, but work is already underway to ensure all six councils work together effectively on delivering a new council for Oxfordshire in 2019,” they concluded.

Oxfordshire’s bid to be a unitary council has not all been plain sailing, however. Though three councils have agreed to the bid, three other councils, Oxford City, Cherwell District and West Oxfordshire have launched petitions to block the change.

They argue that a unitary council would “disregard specific needs” of Oxfordshire’s smaller councils.

In February, it had even been suggested by Oxford City leader Bob Price that the plans were an attempt to derail a potential devolution deal for the region, by eclipsing a campaign for devolution with a separate one for a unitary council.

In a joint statement, the three leaders of the councils, Price, Barry Wood (Cherwell) and James Mills (West Oxfordshire) said: “These proposals affect all of Oxfordshire so it is vitally important that all of Oxfordshire has the opportunity to have their voice heard before any decision is made. We three councils stand united against the proposals for a unitary council which we maintain are flawed and will disregard the specific needs of each individual city and district.

“Cherwell, Oxford City and West Oxfordshire are similar in that we are three strong performing councils but we are different in the way we operate and that is what’s key to our success.”

“By operating at a local level,” the councillors argued, “we can tailor services to meet the needs of our individual communities and address challenges specific to our own areas.

“It is this approach that makes us so successful but this would be lost if a unitary model were to proceed and Mr Javid needs to be aware of the devastating consequences before any decision is made.” 

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