Javid backs plans for Bucks unitary

12 Mar 18

Communities secretary Sajid Javid has said he is minded to approve a unitary reorganisation of councils in Buckinghamshire, less than a fortnight after he agreed a change to unitary status in Dorset.

The change would see a single council created to cover the areas of Buckinghamshire County Council and the districts of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Buckinghamshire and Wycombe.

Javid said he found this option more convincing than the alternative proposed by Aylesbury Vale, under which it would become one unitary, with a second covering the other three areas.

Javid said: “There is broad local consent for change in Buckinghamshire, though there have been two alternative approaches for how precisely it should be configured.

“I am satisfied that this new single council, if established, is likely to improve local government and service delivery in the county, generating savings, increasing financial resilience, facilitating a more strategic and holistic approach to planning and housing challenges, and sustaining good local services.”

He said Aylesbury Vale’s option was unlikely to improve local government, generate significant savings, or “provide the capacity to sustain major services or to address planning and housing challenges”.

Representations can be made until 25 May, after which Javid will take his final decision.

Martin Tett, Conservative leader of the county council, urged other councils to put their differences aside and “grasp this once-in-a-lifetime chance”.

He said: “The new council will simplify the current local government setup, save many millions of pounds to plough back into frontline services and enable services to be provided for residents at a truly local level.”

Tett said the new council would provide local services through community hubs, with community boards created to “put real decision-making power in the hands of local people”.

But John Fuller, chair of the District Councils Network, said: “This ‘minded to’ decision would appear inconsistent with the principles adopted by the secretary of state in relation to the unitary proposals in Dorset, where there was broad agreement and substantial consensus for the new proposals from district, county and unitary authorities, which will result in two new unitary authorities of equal size.”

Fuller added: “It must be remembered that there were two different visions for the future of local government in Buckinghamshire and if the new proposals are to go ahead then full consensus must be reached during the consultation period.”

Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network welcomed Javid’s decision as “a solution, backed by up by a clear argument and compelling evidence from the county council”. 

He said: "Our independent research, and the recent ResPublica report, shows there to be significant financial, economic and public service reform benefits for those willing to pursue restructuring at scale, as well as pushing the door open for county devolution.”

Edwards added: “Importantly, this option was chosen ahead of breaking up and fragmenting the county; it is county boundaries that have the size and scale necessary to retain and reform crucial frontline public services so they work better for residents, whilst offering the best scope for financial savings.”

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