A member of the House of Lords who led the creation of a successful single unitary council in Wiltshire has given her backing to similar plans for Buckinghamshire.
Wiltshire Council leader Baroness Scott of Bybrook OBE said Buckinghamshire County Council’s proposal, which includes abolishing both the county council and the districts and creating one entirely new authority, was ‘exactly the right way’ to go.
Wiltshire has a similar population as Buckinghamshire of around 500,000 and – like here – previously had four districts and a county council until the single unitary authority was formed in 2009.
Speaking outside Parliament this week, Baroness Scott, who was nominated for a peerage by David Cameron in 2015 and received an OBE in 2010 for services to local government, said: “I would say to the people of Buckinghamshire that Wiltshire Council did it back in 2009 and we have been able to save over £100m and have recurring year-on-year savings.
“We have been able to protect frontline services and we are now much simpler for people to do business with.
“Many, many people have come to me and said ‘we didn’t agree with it but actually you were right, it works very well’.
“In Wiltshire you have got to remember that 30 per cent of the people thought there was only one council in the first place. This is not about organisations, councillors and officers, this is about services to the people we represent.”
Baroness Scott said Wiltshire’s 18 Community Area boards, which are similar to the proposed 19 Community Boards in Buckinghamshire, meant local decisions were taken by local people on a wide range of issues.
“In Malmesbury they had flooding. At the same time the local library was due to be decorated with new carpets. They said ‘no, that money is not important there, but it’s certainly important as far as flooding alleviation is concerned’ so they had the power to do that. That to me is local democracy at the best level.”
Baroness Scott praised plans for Community Hubs, which would offer a physical council presence in 19 locations throughout Buckinghamshire. “I think Buckinghamshire is going in exactly the right way by being a large strategic, efficient and effective organisation but also working much more locally with the people it represents.”
And she said having just one county-wide council had improved services in areas she hadn’t even envisaged.
“Soon after we went [unitary] I had a knock on my office door and it was somebody from Safeguarding Children. She said thank-you for going unitary and I said, ‘why, it obviously doesn’t affect safeguarding?’
“She said ‘oh yes, it does, because we were having to work with four different organisations as well as the county council on safeguarding. Now my teams are released from doing that work and working with one organisation’. I hadn’t even thought about that.”
Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, which submitted the business case for a new Buckinghamshire Council to government in September, said: “When it comes to establishing a successful, county-wide unitary council, Baroness Scott has been there, done it and got the T-shirt.
“She knows first-hand how it gives real value for money, makes things so much simpler for our residents and genuinely empowers local communities. I’m delighted she has given her backing to our business case.”
An independent review of Wiltshire Council by the Local Government Association, published in 2013 said it had had a ‘good first four years’, ‘has a good reputation in the community’ and that the ‘introduction of 18 area boards has been successful’.
It added: “The Council has maximised the opportunity of moulding five organisations into one to a distinct financial advantage.”