District Councils approve bid for two new unitary authorities
Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe District Council members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a proposal for two new unitary authorities in Bucks, at each of their recent respective council meetings. The Districts’ proposal is to abolish the County Council and all four existing District Councils in Buckinghamshire, and replace them with two new unitary councils, one in the north alongside the existing unitary of Milton Keynes, and one in the south to cover the area of the three southern district councils, saving tax payers almost £58million over a five year period. Under the new proposal each unitary council would be responsible for the delivery of all council services for the two distinct areas.
The four District Leaders met the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, on Thursday 19 January to discuss their proposal. He listened carefully and asked questions. He has already received a separate proposal from the County Council for a single county-based unitary and will decide what to do next in March before the County Council elections. He could make a clear decision, or perhaps ask for an agreed county decision, or he might ask for further representations. It does not look as though there will be any public consultation. This flurry of urgent applications has been driven by an acute shortage of funding, particularly for the County Council’s responsibilities.
The District Councils say that late last year, they engaged with 146 key stakeholder organisations across Bucks. 73% favoured a multiple unitary model, whilst only 27% said they would prefer a single unitary authority (as proposed by Bucks County Council). This information, as well as showing a good deal of local consensus, has been used to help form their proposal for innovative change which they maintain will not only improve the outcomes for the people of Bucks, but will also provide a solid foundation for service provision and future challenges.
Cllr Katrina Wood, Leader of Wycombe District Council said: “The difference between the north and south of Buckinghamshire, in terms of the economy, jobs and housing market, demographic and even the topographical geography, is significant. We strongly believe that these differences will be best served by the creation of two new, more locally accountable, unitary councils in the north and south of the county.”
Cllr Isobel Darby, Leader of Chiltern District Council said: “While we’ve maintained high-quality service provision and demonstrated a strong track record of innovation in the face of financial challenges – reshaping our business models, sharing services and staff, regenerating our towns and attracting inward investment – communities are still suffering the consequences of failing county-wide services.”
Cllr Ralph Bagge, Leader of South Bucks District Council said: “The north and south face different opportunities and challenges. Aylesbury Vale sits within the Oxford to Cambridge arc, identified for significant growth by Government. The three southern districts have a strong economic relationship with London with the forthcoming Heathrow expansion and high demand for new homes.”