‘It’s unlikely to be the financial panacea’: Chiltern and South Bucks councils hit out at unitary talks

Going unitary would unlock millions in savings
Going unitary would unlock millions in savings

The leaders of Chilterns and South Bucks district councils have hit out at attempts to kickstart the reorganisation of local government in the county.

It comes after this newspaper revealed Bucks County Council is ready to commission an independent study which would look at different ways authorities could be scrapped in favour of a unitary form of governance. This includes having just one Bucks-wide council providing all services, or splitting the county into North and South unitary authorities.

The county council wants all authorities to agree to be bound by the recommendations of the study.

Chiltern District Council and South Bucks District Council already operate a strategic partnership and combine several of their services.

And in a joint statement the authorities said they were disappointed by the focus on unitary authorities and claimed it is ‘unlikely to be the financial panacea it’s being represented as’.

They said: “It is disappointing that those who are most vocal about local government reorganisation continue to promote unitary authorities when it is clear that newer governance models, such as combined authorities, offer potentially the same savings without the cost and disruption to services arising from replacing the existing structures.

“We’ve always been willing to look at local government structures, but are mindful of the limitations. Any restructure would be costly and disruptive. It is unlikely to be the financial panacea it’s being represented as and neither would it necessarily protect or improve those services or best deal with the local issues our residents tell us matter most to them.

“We think the debate would be better focussed on wider reform across the public sector in Buckinghamshire. We fully support the aims of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act which we see as a positive step to do just that. And in so doing giving our areas the range of powers they need to create jobs, provide homes, strengthen healthy communities and protect the vulnerable. This would give us as local leaders the ability to start delivering on deals to further improve public services in our areas whilst achieving greater economies of scale and making savings in excess of anything resulting from establishing a new Council or Councils.”

Wycombe District Council leader Katrina Wood has previously said she is unconvinced by the need for council restructure in Bucks.

However, Aylesbury Vale District Council is promoting a unitary model which would involve splitting Bucks into a Vale Council and South Bucks Council.

Mr Tett has said he believes a single Bucks-wide authority would be the best option.

The Bucks Herald and Buckingham and Winslow Advertiser is urging politicians around the county to seriously consider going unitary, as a way of saving millions of pounds at a time of severe financial pressures and service cuts. We are neutral on what this model should look like.