Council leaders’ statement on single unitary council for Oxfordshire

Joint statement from leaders of Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council

Becoming a single unitary council will transform the way we deliver our services to the people of Oxfordshire for the better. But these are vital services that will impact on everyone. That’s why the changes we make must without fail improve the quality of life for residents, their families and the communities they live in.

We have heard a range of differing views on how these services should be organised and between us, as the leaders of our councils, we have come together with others to make this happen.

It has been an incredible journey that has ultimately brought us all together in one place. The statement below sets out our aims for a single unitary council and how we are working together on a joint proposal to government.

  • The leaders of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse councils have agreed to work together with Oxfordshire County Council on a joint bid to government to create a better council for Oxfordshire.
  • There is now a strong consensus that in the context of reduced government funding and urgent need for capital investment, a step-change is needed in the way council services are run.
  • Having looked at all the evidence, we are convinced that a single unitary council for Oxfordshire provides the best prospect for maintaining high quality services and securing badly needed investment in infrastructure.
  • It is also essential that the new unitary council must protect the quality of life for everyone in Oxfordshire, in both urban and rural areas.
  • All are agreed that enhancing local democracy and autonomy should be at the heart of the new model for local government, so that different areas can continue to make decisions that work for them. There can be no one-size-fits-all approach.
  • The joint unitary bid will build on the foundation laid by the draft One Oxfordshire proposal, with significant improvements to ensure that the priorities of local communities, raised by district council partners, are fully addressed. Over the coming weeks we will be focusing particularly on:

    Strengthening the model of local accountability, with decisions taken at a much more local level than offered by the area executive board model.

    Ensuring locally held reserves are used for the benefit of local residents, while recognising the collective benefits of pooling resources to leverage investment.

    Commitment to a revised model of council tax harmonisation across the county over a reasonable period of time.

    Ensuring that the planning framework builds on existing and emerging local plans.

    Establishing a housing company to ensure delivery of sustainable housing and infrastructure.
  • It is essential that the model of local government incorporates the very different social and economic make-up of Oxford city and its vitally important economic importance to the whole county.
  • We acknowledge that this is a complex issue to resolve and urge the city council to join the working group so that we can draw on their knowledge and expertise of running services in the city to develop a model of local governance that works for Oxford.
  • The final proposal will also take full account of the comments and issues raised by residents and stakeholders during the One Oxfordshire public engagement exercise currently being carried out by the county council.
  • We note that the ‘more local’ aspect of the proposal is proving to be of particular interest to residents. They also want reassurance that any change would focus on service improvement through joining up, as well as making savings.
  • All councils must be involved in creating the new unitary authority and deciding upon the transition arrangements, with councillors for the county and districts working together to take key decisions, including appointment of an interim chief executive at an early stage of the process.
  • Having agreed on the best approach to improving services and securing the infrastructure needed to ensure sustainable economic growth, we plan to jointly submit a bid to the Secretary of State in March. We want a quick decision so the new authority can be created as soon as possible.
  • The next step is to form a working group of all the partner councils to develop a new proposal that represents the best deal for the people of Oxfordshire. We hope all the councils will be involved, and will also be asking our business and public sector partners for their input

Cllr Ian Hudspeth
Cllr Matthew Barber
Cllr John Cotton

Cllr Matthew Barber, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council said:

“I believe that by working together we can truly transform the way we deliver our services to the people of Oxfordshire for the better. The Vale of White Horse District Council will play an important role in developing the final joint proposals for a unitary council ensuring they have a strong local influence and impact and offer our communities value for money.”

Cllr John Cotton, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council said: 

“Helping to shape the future of our county is of the utmost importance to South Oxfordshire District Council and I am committed to ensuring our local communities across the district continue to benefit from a council that understands local people’s needs and aspirations.”

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

“Two weeks after publishing our draft proposal, I am pleased that three of the six councils are now working together to create a brand new council for Oxfordshire that really will be the best of both worlds - lower cost and more local. I hope that other districts and city councils will join us to get the best out of the new council for their areas. 

Most of all we now want to hear what residents think. Once people find out more, I think they will see that one unitary council offers the best way to protect services from future cuts and get the investment in roads and infrastructure that Oxfordshire urgently needs.”