Lidington: Time to think seriously about unitary council

David Lidington MP
David Lidington MP

I’ve read a lot in the Herald recently about the pros and cons of reorganising local government.

Actually, it seems pretty much agreed that a shift to a single-tier, unitary council would save money and be more accountable than the current set-up.

The controversy is over whether the County or the District area should be the basis of a new system.

In my view the key test is which arrangement would provide the best service to local people for the lowest cost.

Now I’m usually a sceptic about the worth of reorganisations.

I’ve seen too many of them in the last 24 years to believe that they’d solve all ills.

But I reckon we do now need to think seriously about the best way to organise our public services for the future.

Partly it’s about money. Whoever is in government, funds will be tight and we’ll need to squeeze every last scrap of value out of each £ spent.

But it’s also about changes in technology. More and more of us are accessing public services online.

Fewer of us are visiting council offices or police stations.

Thames Valley police are set to close small, little-used police stations and plough the money into better communications equipment for officers. After all, why have a small police station open for just a few hours each week?

Why couldn’t the local PC be available instead at certain times in a GP clinic or the supermarket cafe?

As Aylesbury expands, shouldn’t we also be thinking about locating new NHS and social care services in the same place?

I know that none of this is simple. Money for new premises has to be found before you can realise the savings from disposing of old ones. But there could be big savings from merging back office costs and getting rid of underused buildings.

The prize would be public services organised to suit the way we live now and with more resources directed into the front line.

Worth thinking about.