Working together on a unitary proposal is key – that is the message from Bucks County Council leaders.
This week leader Martin Tett, deputy leader Mike Appleyard, acting chief executive Neil Gibson and director of strategy and policy Sarah Ashmead sat around the table with the Bucks Herald’s Hayley O’Keeffe to discuss their plans.
Last week we reported that Aylesbury Vale District Council chiefs are prepared to submit their proposals to break off as a unitary authority to Secretary of State Greg Clark within weeks.
But this week Martin Tett said that he believes an independent unitary study is needed, and that the money-saving benefits of unitary will only be realised if all councils work together.
He said: “I am completely certain that the right thing to do is to have a unitary council.
“It’s not about current boundaries or the way that we currently do things. We need to provide something that give the best possible services to everyone in the county.
“It’s not about one authority saying that they will just take their ball home and go it on their own.
“The best model for a unitary authority is debatable but there are three possible options.
“These are a north/ south split, which is what AVDC is proposing, then there is a three-way split which would be Aylesbury Vale then Wycombe and then Chiltern and South Bucks together split into three.
“Number three is using the county geography to create a completely new council with all of the districts, with just one chief executive, one set of councillors and one set of staff.”
He added: “At the moment we have something like 200 district councillors and 49 county councillors, so under this new authority it would be predominantly former district councillors that would take these seats.”
And Mr Tett said that he would personally get the ball rolling on setting up an independent working group to make a recommendation on a suitable unitary council to the government.
He said: “I need to get a council policy in place on this, but we think that this approach is better in the long term. We need to look at all of the options without one district saying that they are just going to go out on their own.
“We need to examine a range of options based on good local debate, to discuss how best to provide services in the best interests of local residents.
“Once our council policy is agreed, I am going to write to all district leaders proposing that we need to agree a process of looking at all the options for modernising local government. I want to have done this by the end of April.
“Then I propose that every authority works up their own business case, and an independent committee headed up by the local MP, and with representations from stakeholders including the NHS, business committees, Bucks Business First and town and parish councils work together to make a recommendation.”
District councils were born in 1975, and provide a range of second-tier services such as bin collections and town planning.
And Mr Tett said that he believes creating a single Bucks-wide ‘super council’ would put a stop to many of the inconsistencies and waste in the current system.
He said: “It is far easier to run leisure services than something like children’s services where you are having a rapid increase in demand, you are dealing with cases of abuse and caring for asylum seeking lone children,
“This is a legal obligation, no district has a legal duty to make sure that everyone who wants to can go for a swim. All of our districts do a very good job, there is not a bad council in Bucks, but it’s a different type of service completely.
“The service need to work more holistically, for example bin collections are the responsibility of the districts, but the county council is responsible for the household waste recycling centres.
“Do we really need five chief executives?” he added.