Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Councils in row over their future

LEADERS of the five district councils in Oxfordshire are campaigning for the county council to be

LEADERS of the five district councils in Oxfordshire are campaigning for the county council to be scrapped.

They say the move would give taxpayers better value for money and improve services.

South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, Cherwell and West Oxfordshire district councils and Oxford City Council also want to form a partnership with the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

Currently the county council is responsible for services such as adult and children’s social care, roads and schools while the districts look after areas such as rubbish collection, recycling and planning applications.

Under the councils’ plans there would be four unitary authorities, including one for the area currently administered by South Oxfordshire and Vale councils.

Councillor Matthew Barber, leader of the Vale of White Horse council, said: “Local unitary councils working together through a combined authority offer the best solution for the people of Oxfordshire. It would allow decision making and service delivery to better reflect the different challenges and priorities of the people we serve.

“It would also build on the district councils’ strong track record of sound financial planning and efficiency that are at the heart of good governance and effective service delivery.”

The plans are supported by Oxfordshire MPs including David Cameron and Henley MP John Howell.

Mr Howell said: “There are a number of local authority services that are in need of radical overhaul. Merging health and social care is a good place to start but tackling issues like the backlog on roads infrastructure, the mismatch in job skills and simplifying local government will make a big difference for everyone.”

In a joint statement, the four party leaders of the county council called for a public debate. Council leader Ian Hudpseth (Conservative), Liz Brighouse (Labour), Richard Webber (Lib-Dems) and David Williams Green) said: “This announcement came as the ink was barely dry on a devolution bid to government on behalf of all the county’s councils, which could have co-ordinated a £6.6billion investment in infrastructure and put the control of £1.3billion health and care budgets in the hands of the people of Oxfordshire.

“Now, before the Government has even responded, a new plan is on the table.

“Despite being described as a unitary bid to create single councils for each area, this proposal also retains two layers of local government in the form of four ‘quasi-unitary’ councils with a ‘combined authority’ quango covering three counties on top.

“We believe that for reasons of history, geography and practicality, we should be looking for a ‘one Oxfordshire’ approach. We are inviting all stakeholders to work together in a jointly agreed process to develop a business case for each option... then the public can make up their own minds.”

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