Council chief claims Vale ‘ideologically different’ to rest of Bucks as referendum timetable announced

Stock image
Stock image

A referendum asking whether the Vale should break away from Bucks could be held within 16 months, according to the man spearheading the move.

The district council’s leadership wants to commission a report costing up to £80,000 looking at the business case for Aylesbury Vale becoming a unitary authority.

This means it would essentially be taking on the functions of Bucks County Council, which is opposed to such a move.

In a report to cabinet members, deputy chief executive Jon McGinty says that ‘Aylesbury Vale is demographically and ideologically different to its neighbours in the southern part of the county’.

He gave an example of the massive housing growth in Aylesbury Vale, ‘a characteristic which distinguishes it both strategically and demographically from the southern half of Buckinghamshire’.

“This means that decisions taken across Buckinghamshire as a whole inevitably represent a compromise between the wants and needs of different communities.

“A unitary council for Aylesbury Vale would be better placed to tailor resource distribution to issues and areas of the district in most need, while still engaging across boundaries on issues where necessary and appropriate.”

He said during a shake-up of councils across the country in the mid-90s, Sir John Banham, who chaired the Local Government Commission For England, suggested that Bucks should be split into three unitary authorities – Milton Keynes, Aylesbury Vale and a combination of Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe.

However, the government turned down the proposal, agreeing only that Milton Keynes should split away.

Mr McGinty said that with a population of more than 181,000, Aylesbury Vale is the second largest district in England and nearly 40 per cent larger than Milton Keynes was in 1994 when it became unitary.

This means the district is ‘already large enough to take strategically significant decisions over key public services’.

He said that a ‘unitary council based on an Aylesbury Vale geography could mean that public services would be shaped and delivered to better meet the challenges and needs of the Vale’.

“In the current structures, it is possible that the delivery of public services will have to be further prioritised based on need across the county, which may mean that Aylesbury Vale receives even less resource.”

Mr McGinty said exact level savings would only be known once the study has been carried out. However, a recent report by Bucks Business First estimated a two-unitary solution for Bucks might generate savings of £11m a year, ‘around half of which might accrue to this new unitary in north-west Buckinghamshire’.

Full council which meets on February 25 will be asked to give the go-ahead for a business model to be developed. This report would ‘need to provide initial proposals for how a unitary council for Aylesbury Vale would deliver services, particularly those which are currently undertaken at a county level’.

According to Mr McGinty it would ‘also need to demonstrate how critical services (particularly children’s services, adult social care and public health) would be delivered and sustainable on a smaller scale’.

The business case should be finished by August. The full council would then vote in September on whether the case should be taken to a referendum. If the answer is yes, over the next eight months the case would be put to the public, before finally they would vote (most likely by post) in May 2016.

The result of the poll would not be legally binding, but Mr McGinty says the current government (which of course, may change after the general election), has recently indicated it ‘would not block proposals that had a public mandate’.

“Once the views of residents were understood through the local poll, the council would then be able to work with the government to determine the best local government structures for the district.”

Mr McGinty has been ‘relieved’ of his day-to-day responsibilities to concentrate full-time on the business case.