FROM TODAY'S HERALD SERIES...
"A unitary council will deliver a better Oxfordshire". After South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils announced they were backing Oxfordshire County Council's controversial bid to create a new 'super council', district leaders Matthew Barber and John Cotton explain why they believe it will be better for taxpayers.
A YEAR ago, all Oxfordshire leaders agreed that the current system of local government in Oxfordshire wasn’t working.
We all said it was inefficient to continue to retain the two tiers of county, city and district councils.
We all said something needed to change and we all said we believed that unitary councils were better.
At the time we genuinely thought we could do this by creating three smaller unitary councils.
However, after the referendum results last year we found that we effectively had a new government – with new priorities.
Local government is increasingly being asked to do more to support the economy and housing growth.
We are also being asked to make better use of the money we raise from our residents and businesses – and we are being told that there is little or no additional government money available to us.
Over the past few months it has become increasingly clear that government will not support the creation of smaller unitary councils – but they will favour larger, more financially resilient councils.
Last month Oxfordshire County Council published their proposal for a single unitary council – called One Oxfordshire. It proposed a fresh start for local government in Oxfordshire, which would be simpler, offer better services, be more local and cost less.
A unitary council will be responsible for delivering all local services across Oxfordshire – making substantial savings and helping to keep council tax down.
As well as offering value for money, a single unitary approach means services will be more joined up and important decisions around planning and infrastructure, will have a county-wide approach. Important local issues such as car parking charges will remain in the control of local people.
As councils and leaders, the publication of Oxfordshire County Council’s proposals mean we can look at these details and most importantly have a say in shaping the final outcome.
In fact, we are so determined that a new unitary council truly reflects the needs of local people, we have agreed that our two councils will work with Oxfordshire County Council on a new joint proposal for submission to government in March.
In practice this means we will be at the heart of the decision making process, including securing area boards in our towns and parishes – ensuring they have the powers and budget to make local decisions on local issues.
Having listened to a range of views from communities, businesses, fellow councils and politicians about how services could be delivered to the people of Oxfordshire in the future – our overriding view is that we must come together as one.
By doing so, we truly can deliver a better Oxfordshire for hundreds and thousands of households, workers, their families and the communities they live in.
But we know some other local councils have varying views and we respect that.
Take Oxford for example, which is a globally recognised city – offering outstanding education, tourism, research and much more. We have already taken steps to recognise the city’s unique qualities in our joint statement in February, with a commitment to keep council housing in public ownership and other steps. If the city council were to join us in a single unitary offer, these unique qualities would without doubt continue to be celebrated.
So we urge them, along with Cherwell and West Oxfordshire district councils to keep talking to us and challenging us, and we call for them to come on board and help us deliver the right single unitary for the people of Oxfordshire.
We also ask that local residents get involved in the debate. To find out more about the current proposals and have your say visit oneoxfordshire.org.