County council appoints local government experts to review ‘unitary’ options

Oxfordshire County Council has appointed Grant Thornton UK LLP to consider how local government could be reorganised to reduce costs and protect vital services.

Grant Thornton’s brief is to undertake an objective, evidence-led review of all options, including the status quo. Alternative options could include the creation of one or more new ‘unitary’ councils, which would be responsible for all local government services rather than the current split between the county and districts.

The firm will look to identify the model for local government that provides the best services and value to council tax payers and business rate payers in Oxfordshire, and offers the savings needed to ensure long term viability.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said:

“Grant Thornton impressed us with their knowledge of local government and commitment to conducting an independent study that looked carefully at all the options equally.

I am convinced local government needs to change in Oxfordshire, and it is vital that we make the right decision to protect council services for the future.

The key issue for me is not about structures but more about how we can join up services efficiently to provide the best possible services for the people of Oxfordshire.

Council tax payers will want to know the facts so they can make up their own minds, and that is what this independent review will provide. We will be publishing the findings as soon as we have them so we can involve everyone in that debate. After all, it is about our future.”

The county council is assembling an independent advisory group to support the work of Grant Thornton, overseen by an independent chairman. The advisory group will offer impartial advice and local knowledge to ensure Grant Thornton fully understands the long-term challenges and opportunities for local government in Oxfordshire.

The experienced Grant Thornton team includes two former council chief executives, and former senior local government officers.

Grant Thornton was selected because of its experience of working with a number of councils across the UK currently tackling the same challenges, as well as those that have recently become unitaries. Grant Thornton also has a strong partnership with CIPFA, the public sector accountancy professional body, which provides up-to-date information on local government costs and services.

Grant Thornton is on the government’s approved supplier list for consultancy services. The firm has worked with local authorities for over thirty years, and is the fifth largest accountancy firm in the UK.

The county council’s brief asked Grant Thornton to consider local government structures that would address the following points:

  • Service Delivery and Outcomes: reforms should improve local service delivery and outcomes, particularly for the most vulnerable,
  • Cost Savings and Value For Money: reforms should deliver significant cost savings and drive value for money and long-term financial sustainability,
  • Stronger Leadership: reforms should provide stronger and more accountable strategic and local leadership,
  • Economic Growth and Infrastructure: reforms should drive economic growth and meet the infrastructure challenge, and,
  • Local Engagement and Empowerment: new structures should engage with communities and empower local areas

Guy Clifton, Head of Local Government Advisory at Grant Thornton commented:

“We are pleased to have been appointed by the council, to support them in this key area of strategic planning. Through our partnership we hope to help ensure a sustainable future for local government services for the communities and businesses of Oxfordshire.

“As a firm, we are committed to creating a vibrant economy in the UK, which will allow businesses, communities and people to flourish. As part of this, we are helping public sector organisations rethink the way they operate and looking at how better collaboration and innovation in the sector can help build stronger public services for the future.”