Independent experts take a fresh look at options for delivering key local services to Oxfordshire people

Independent experts have taken a fresh look at the different options for local government structures that could emerge for debate among communities and councillors in Oxfordshire as the nation awaits a Government blueprint for the future.

During the Autumn the Government will publish a White Paper on recovery and devolution, which will act as a guide to setting out how local government structures may be reorganised across the whole country – taking into account the changed landscape following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cherwell District Council and Oxfordshire County Council recently commissioned a piece of work to look at the various options that may be viable in the county. This followed a motion unanimously agreed by county councillors in July.

Both councils asked experts at PwC to complete the work. PwC are currently acting in an advisory capacity to Government and other local authorities undertaking similar pieces of work.

What are the options?

The full report can be downloaded from the top right hand corner of this page under "Downloads". It sets out a high-level appraisal of three options for local government reform in Oxfordshire:

1. Optimising the existing two-tier collaboration

2. Establishing a new single unitary authority

3. Establishing two new unitary authorities, based on a 50/50 split of the population to meet Government criteria around size

Food for thought

Councillor Ian Hudspeth the leader of the county council said: “We hope this report will provide food for thought for councillors and residents of Oxfordshire as we head into the Autumn, when the Government will publish a White Paper that promises to start a process that will bring change to local government throughout the entire country.

It is important to note that this review does not seek to make recommendations about the future of local government in Oxfordshire. Instead it examines three options, which have been modelled using existing published data, and is designed to provide a useful basis for a positive conversation about how we can work as a local authority family across Oxfordshire to achieve the best outcome for residents.”

Constructive conversation

Councillor Barry Wood, the leader of Cherwell District Council, added: “We know that discussions about local government reform are not always welcome as they can distract from the core mission of councils, who work tirelessly for the benefit of residents.

“However, we have a duty to carefully prepare for and respond to the reform process that will be initiated by the White Paper. We at Cherwell District Council and our local authority partners in Oxfordshire are seeking a constructive conversation when the white paper is released to look at the national approach to shaping and renewing local government and how it is instrumental in leading recovery from Covid-19. We are all keen to focus on how potential changes could support the long-term sustainability of public services in Oxfordshire.”

What is the current local government structure in Oxfordshire?

Oxfordshire currently has one county council providing services such as social care for adults and children, highways, libraries, fire and rescue, trading standards, registration services (births, deaths and marriages). Oxfordshire County Council is also the local education authority.

Oxford City Council, Cherwell District Council, Vale of White Horse District Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and West Oxfordshire District Council provide services such as waste collection, environmental health, planning, leisure and housing.

Some other parts of the country share this two-tier system. Others have just one tier of local government.