District councillors last night voted to look into whether the Vale should break away from Buckinghamshire County Council and provide all services by itself.
The proposal for a business case to be drawn up, which the council says will cost £80,000, was supported by councillors from all parties, although three Lib Dem politicians abstained from voting.
Lib Dem leader Steven Lambert, who voted for the motion, said he supported looking at a business case but had concerns about the wider issues involved:
He said: “Standing still and doing nothing is not the way forward or an option.
“But I have grave concerns that we could just end up looking at Aylesbury Vale and not other areas. I don’t see how we could orphan other areas of the county without having an idea of how they would go forward, but we have to start somewhere.”
He warned that the county council runs a lot more ‘complex and complicated’ services such as social services and highways with ‘massive budgets’ that the district would need to take on.
And he criticised AVDC leader Neil Blake and county leader Martin Tett for their public war of words through The Bucks Herald.
He said: “It is essential the personal politics are removed on all sides of the debate. I find the ongoing press comments between the leaders on this to be highly unhelpful and a muddying of the issues and I call on them to halt their tongue when it comes to personalities. This is about what is right for the residents of Bucks.”
UKIP leader Chris Adams said: “With only one council the public will know who is responsible for services.
“Having one voice for our area will mean stronger leadership, more joined up services and thinking and clearer representation with other public agencies. I congratulate this council and this leader (Mr Blake) for all working together on this for our residents and to give them the best public services we can deliver for the money.”
He said that ‘if we come up with a good business case’ the public would be likely to vote for unitary at referendum, meaning other district council in Bucks would be ‘playing catch-up’.
Councillor Cory Cashman (Lib Dem) said he would be abstaining because he did not feel the timing was right. “Spending £80,000 or (Bucks County Council leader) Martin Tett’s figure of £300,000 is quite a significant amount of money to spend just prior to the election.
“I would argue we should wait 10 more weeks because then we will have a fresh council with a fresh mandate. We will also have a new government with ideas on local democracy and local government reorganisation and we might find we have wasted money because the government’s ideas might supersede our own.”
However, he said he supported the ‘idea of a unitary council based on Aylesbury Vale’. “We are a clear entity to the north of the Chilterns.”
District leader Neil Blake (Conservative) said that AVDC had already ‘remodelled’ services, saving £11m. “By remodelling services currently provided by Bucks County Council we should able to make significant savings that can be passed on to residents in the Vale, either by keeping council tax low or by extending or creating services.”
He said the Vale had been given a ‘housing and economic growth agenda’.
“That growth will have a direct impact on all services that are provided across the Vale. I believe all these services should be under our control.”
Following the meeting he said: “What we’ve agreed to do is fully investigate the viability of bringing together all county and district council services to see if it would deliver better outcomes and better value for local people.
“We will provide information to residents as we pull together the business case because it’s important people can make an informed choice and we wouldn’t progress it any further without the support of residents through a referendum.”
Bucks County Council has been vocal in its opposition to the plans. Leader Martin Tett says he would prefer a Buckinghamshire-wide unitary authority, but that now is not the time to be looking into it as the government does not currently favour council restructuring.