The government says it would oppose any move by Aylesbury Vale District Council to break away from the rest of Bucks, meaning taxpayers’ money could be ‘potentially wasted’ on developing the case for unitary.
In a letter to Bucks County Council leader Martin Tett, who opposes AVDC’s unitary plans, minister for local government Kris Hopkins said the government is ‘very clear that unitary restructuring is a distraction’.
He added: “We would not deem it appropriate for any local government body to attempt to impose unilaterally any form of unitary restructuring on a part, or all, of a neighbouring local authority or adjacent tier. Indeed, such unitary debates are in themselves divisive – and would take the time and focus away on improving frontline services and keeping council tax down.”
Labour told the Bucks Herald it also would not support a council’s unilateral plan to go unitary if it formed the next government, although it would back authorities which collaborated to achieve this.
On February 25 district councillors will decide whether to allow AVDC to develop a business case for going unitary, which the authority says will cost no more than £80,000. However, Mr Tett disputes this figure, suggesting that once things like residents’ surveys and the cost of a postal ballot is taken into account, more than £300,000 is likely to have been spent.
In the latest of a bitter war of words between the two councils, Mr Tett said: “I find the rush to spend in excess of £300,000 of hard earned tax payers money to produce a self justifying business case puzzling.
“The Government have clearly said that they are not interested in such a proposal for the foreseeable future.
“This a massive constitutional issue that will impact on everyone living and working in the county. The sensible way forward is for all the Buckinghamshire Council leaders to work together to examine all of the options and have them reviewed impartially so that the residents of Buckinghamshire can have their say in an informed manner.”
Mr Tett said he ‘hoped that members of full council give these proposals proper, robust scrutiny on behalf of Vale residents before a lot of time and taxpayers’ money is potentially wasted’ on a business case, adding that district councillors should also question why the decision needs to be taken now, just before the elections.
He favours scrapping the county’s district councils in favour of one Buckinghamshire-wide unitary council, which he says would save more money.
But he added: “There will be a right time in the future to have a full and open debate about all the potential options for unitary government across the whole of Buckinghamshire involving all Buckinghamshire councils.
“That way, the viability, costs, risks and benefits of all options can be fully and openly assessed and also subject to independent review. Due to the current government’s position, that time is clearly not at the moment.”
A spokesman for AVDC said: “Councillor Neil Blake (AVDC’s leader) has invited Councillor Martin Tett to meet to discuss the unitary proposal and to answer directly any questions that Cllr Tett has with this. We will not be answering the county council’s questions via the media.”