One ‘unitary’ council for Oxfordshire saves £100m
A proposal to abolish all six councils and create a new ‘unitary’ council for Oxfordshire is published today (19 January) by Oxfordshire County Council.
Two independent studies by Grant Thornton and PwC commissioned by the county and the district councils estimate that ending the inefficiency of running six councils and joining up related services would save £100m over the first five years – money that could be spent on improving public services and keeping council tax down.
Central government is changing the way councils are funded, and councils will soon have to pay for services mainly from council tax and business rates. Unless local government is reorganised, Oxfordshire councils will not be able to pay for vital public services for local communities and vulnerable people as the population increases and gets older.
Protecting public services
Oxfordshire currently has a two-tier local government - a county council plus five district and city councils.
It’s widely accepted that services such as social services and transport should be managed on a county-wide basis. The ‘One Oxfordshire’ proposal combines the ability to take county-wide decision and respond needs of different local communities. The new unitary council would be:
simpler for residents
offer better, more joined up services
give communities more say over local decisions
cost less to run with savings used to improve and protect services.
Joining up planning, housing, jobs and transport under a unitary council would mean Oxfordshire’s housing shortage can be addressed, along with investment in vital infrastructure.
The proposal has cross-party support and was developed with the help of an advisory group of representatives from public, private and voluntary sector organisations.
Cllr Ian Hudspeth (Conservative), Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, says:
“Councils in Oxfordshire have become a lot more efficient but we cannot continue to make savings without further cuts to local services. I want local government’s limited budget to be spent on improving services rather than running six separate organisations.
"We already know residents are confused about who does what. Our proposal for a district-based, unitary council can serve local communities while being more efficient and simpler for residents - one phone number, one website and one point of contact.
"We cannot turn our back on the £100m saving over the first five years – money that can used to improve services and keep council tax down. While we delay reorganising local government, we are wasting around £400,000 every week on running six councils – per year, that would fill 307,000 potholes or provide home care for 1,687 older people or approximately one million hours of home care.”
Cllr Liz Brighouse (Labour), Leader of the Opposition, says:
“I want to see services such as housing, social care and benefits joined up so people with the greatest need get the best support.
"Our big challenge for the future is to get better at prevention so people can live more independently and fewer people need costly social care. We can only do that by joining up services for people and supporting them in their community.
"We also need to tackle the real crisis in affordable housing in Oxfordshire, which our two-tier system is failing to do.”
Cllr Richard Webber, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, says:
“People want more influence over decisions affecting their local area, while ensuring that bigger decisions in the interests of the whole of Oxfordshire are not ducked.
"The One Oxfordshire proposal more than halves the number of councillors overall, while making each councillor more directly accountable to the people they represent.
"Area boards based on the existing district and city council boundaries will mean local decisions are taken at a local level, with more input from parishes and town councils.”
Oxfordshire County Council is asking residents for their views, before finalising the proposal and sending it to the government for a decision. Several councils including Wiltshire, Durham and Cornwall have already ‘gone unitary’, while Buckinghamshire County Council has submitted a unitary proposal to government and a decision is expected shortly.
To find out more about the One Oxfordshire proposal, go to www.oneoxfordshire.org or visit your local library. Residents and other stakeholder are being asked to comment on the proposals before the revised proposal and public response is considered by the county council’s Cabinet on 14 March.