Thursday, 26 November 2020

£250,000 for study into councils’ future ‘obscene’

A COUNCILLOR has condemned the “obscene” cost of two studies into proposed changes to local government

A COUNCILLOR has condemned the “obscene” cost of two studies into proposed changes to local government in Oxfordshire.

The county’s four district councils and Oxford City Council, which want to scrap Oxfordshire County Council and have four unitary authorities instead, are set to spend £105,000 on a study by a consultant to support their case.

Meanwhile, the county council is to spend about £150,000 on its own study just two years after paying £40,000 for a study on the feasibility of single unitary authority for the county.

Councillor David Bartholomew, who represents nine parishes around Henley on the county council, told a meeting of Peppard Parish Council that he thought the districts’ report by business management consultants PwC could cost £350,00.

“What is outraging me is the appalling cost,” he said. “The county commissions a report and the districts commission a separate report.

“I stood up in full council and said I thought this was an obscene amount of money. I can’t keep the roads in my division in a state of repair yet the councils between them are spending half a million.

“We should have one report investigating all the options, independently commissioned with one bill. We don’t need two management consultants to do it.

“I urge parish councils to write to all Oxfordshire council leaders asking that the tender process be halted and that all parties get together to commission just one report to prevent an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money.”

At present, 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. 

South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, Cherwell and West Oxfordshire district councils and Oxford City Council want to form a partnership with the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, saying it would provide a better deal for taxpayers. This plan is backed by all Oxfordshire MPs, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Henley MP John Howell.

The county council supports a single unitary council.

Cllr Bartholomew said he didn’t share his council’s view but did want all the options to be considered.

“I refer to myself being in the ‘deep south’ because we’re almost lost in the existing structure and with one huge unitary it could get worse,” he said.

“I am not in favour of the county’s option but they consider all options. They have a preference for a county-wide authority and the districts have a preference for four.”

John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said the study he had part-commissioned was “an important element in the evidence-gathering required to move the debate forward”.

The county council said it would be prepared to take part in a joint study provided the process was fair and  independent.

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