Council leader talks about potential future local government structures and savings

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. That was how a letter writer to the Oxford Mail described local politicians’ approach to changing local government in Oxfordshire, writes Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth

"He meant that no council leader would want to see their own council abolished to be replaced by a wholly new structure – even if that new structure was better and more efficient.

In my case, your correspondent could not be more wrong – I’m counting down to Christmas!

To remind readers, the question here is whether it would be better to have fewer councils in Oxfordshire, instead of the current two-tier structure of one county council with five city and district councils.

Two reports were published last month looking at the financial impact of reorganisation. One was commissioned by the county council and the other by the five districts. Both showed that we could save over £100m over five years with one council for Oxfordshire instead of the current six. Three councils covering the north, the south and Oxford city would also save money, but not nearly as much.

The Oxford Mail letter writer clearly believes that politicians are thinking about their own futures rather than the taxpayer.

As far as I am concerned the local government reorganisation debate is not about me or my job. Under any new structure all politicians would have to stand for elections to a brand new council. Nobody will be guaranteed a seat, let alone the position of leader.

Some people say that there’ll never be local agreement and that we should forget the idea of re-organising altogether and stick with the status quo. Others, including me, continue to argue for change in order to deliver better services and reduce costs.

With demand for council services rising, we can’t turn our back on more than £100m and I am committed to finding a way to make those savings. Every pound saved is a pound not spent on multiple council bureaucracies that can be used to improve services. This is surely what the public want and expect?

Council leaders in Oxfordshire have a great opportunity to put the interests of residents and service users first. Not one but two firms of local government experts say change would be better than the status quo. If we miss this opportunity, we’ll all be judged harshly by the public.

I know that finance isn’t the only thing to consider. Any new council must be set up to meet the different needs of all Oxfordshire communities and be locally accountable, working closely with local groups such as parish and town councils who are the bedrock of our communities.

They have told us they want a greater say in decisions affecting their communities. They should have it.

There is no doubt that changing the way local government works in Oxfordshire would be a big decision. That’s why county councillors will have a chance to discuss the options at a cross-party scrutiny committee meeting next week. District councillors are also holding debates in their own formal meetings, including Cherwell earlier this week.

I will be listening carefully to points raised in all of those debate. It will be hard to reach an agreement and may not be possible, but I think we as politicians have a responsibility to try harder.

I hope that members of our scrutiny committee will conclude that saving the most money to protect services should be our number one priority. I believe that’s what residents rightly expect and it is what I am committed to trying to deliver.

Christmas is three months away and, as ever, turkeys won’t get a vote. However politicians in Oxfordshire have the opportunity of saving more than £100m over five years. That is something I personally would vote for. Why not ask your local councillor where they stand?"