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Revised unitary plans published for Oxfordshire, but remain divisive

A revised proposal to abolish Oxfordshire’s two-tier structure and replace it with one unitary council has been published today by three Oxfordshire councils, but this has still divided opinion across local government in the region.

The draft will be subject to decision making by Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Council on whether it will be submitted for review by Sajid Javid, minister for communities and local government in two weeks’ time.

The plans, which are called ‘a new council for a Better Oxfordshire’, have been released following an independent public consultation that showed 70% of residents were in favour of the changes, based on results from a face-to-face doorstep household survey of over 500 residents in the area.

This news comes in the same week that Oxfordshire City Council accused the county of using the proposal, originally called One Oxfordshire, as a way of eclipsing a mooted devolution proposal as the county told residents on their website that “devolution is dead”.

The revised deal has promised to make Oxfordshire City Council, one of the councils who voiced strong opposition to the unitary proposal, as “central” to the economic and cultural success of the region, “and under the new council will become a local council in its own right, with area boards embedded across the city – taking responsibility for community and environmental issues”.

The plans also say that the local Oxford council will have the power to raise a separate city-wide council tax or precept, which would create a separate fund to put money into community-based services like community centres.

Speaking about the unitary proposal, leader of the County Council, Cllr Ian Hudspeth said: “We have responded to issues raised during the nine-month public engagement exercise in the new proposal, particularly in improving local involvement in Oxford. There is an opportunity to create a new local government for Oxford that reflects the city’s economic and cultural importance to the whole county.

“The survey results show that despite the noisy opposition whipped up by opponents of change, there is a silent majority who support the idea of new council for a better Oxfordshire.”

The leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Matt Barber, also said that the unitary proposal would give a boost to the Oxfordshire region.

He said: “The Better Oxfordshire proposal will ensure Oxfordshire continues to be a great place to live, work and bring up a family. Importantly it will join up important services such as housing, social care and homelessness, enabling the new council to prioritise people’s needs and plan effectively.”

Cllr Barber also confirmed that the Vale of White Horse District Council were working with the County Council and South Oxfordshire District Council to make sure that local communities would still play a big role in the plans.

However, three councils have recently launched petitions to oppose the unitary, including Cherwell District, Oxfordshire City and West Oxfordshire.

In a joint statement, council leaders Cllr Barry Wood (Cherwell), Cllr Bob Price (Oxford) and Cllr 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 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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Resident   03/03/2017 at 17:28

Lies. 70% of those that were asked and responded is not 70% of residents! How can we trust such muppets?

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