An independent report commissioned and published today (Aug 28) by the County Councils Network (CCN) has shown evidence that replacing 213 local councils with 25 new local authorities could save £2.94bn over five years.
The merging of district and county councils in a mid-sized county area could save £126m for that council over five years.
This report comes ahead of the publication of the Government’s Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper.
Across England, most places operate under a two-tier system, with county councils and district councils both providing services to residents.
County councils are responsible for services such as education, transport and waste disposal, while district councils are responsible for more localised services such as leisure centres and rubbish collection.
The PwC report argues that there may be significant economic benefit to local councils if they replace their two-tier system with a unitary authority, such as in large towns like Blackpool.
Cllr David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said:
“The consequences of Coronavirus for local government finances, and the need to work quickly to support the economic recovery, means more councils want to look again at how local government is structured in their area.
“This government has already signalled that it wants to see many more unitary councils created and it is important we get it right for our residents – we do not want to look back on this period as a missed opportunity.”
There are concerns however, that this would put some counties at a disadvantage.
For example, concerns have been expressed by Sharon Taylor, Labour leader of Stevenage Council, who said that her county of Hertfordshire is just too big to be represented by one council.
However, merging the councils into two unitary bodies across the county, would reduce economic benefit by 2/3 down to £1bn.
As well as this, the report concluded that there is very little evidence to show that these changes would lead to immediate improvements in the economic situations of councils.