Scrapping English district councils ‘could save economy billions’

22 Nov 17

Scrapping 201 district councils in England and giving the rest London-style powers could boost the economy by £31bn over five years, ResPublica has stated.

The think-tank has said counties should abandon the two-tier system of local government, which currently sees 27 county councils working in areas with 201 smaller district councils.

Councils should instead adopt ‘streamlined local government’ with single unitary authorities, according to ResPublica’s report Devo 2.0: The Case for Counties, which was launched on Monday.

Researchers said getting rid of the two-tiers and devolving greater powers to these new unitary councils would generate billions for the economy through savings (£2.9bn) and growth (£11.7bn).

The think-tank said investors were “confused and frustrated” by “parochial decision making on important strategic issues” but their proposed reforms would offer a consistent framework for regulations, and clear input to strategic planning.

Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica, said: “The needless confusion that frustrates the ambitions of business and government alike in our county areas must end now.

“With Brexit on the horizon and our city-regions already benefitting from devolution, we can’t afford the waste and complication that the current system creates.”

Blond said single councils on a county scale were the “future”.

This comes as areas like Dorset and Buckinghamshire having submitted plans to the government to move towards systems of that kind.

Jane Scott, County Councils Network reform spokesperson and leader of Wiltshire Council, said the authority’s move to a unitary system has been a “huge success” for Wiltshire.

“ResPublica’s report highlights that streamlining counties will contribute billions to the national economy and will be good for business; but the real winners are local residents who will benefit from improved public services, less bureaucracy, and access to more housing and facilities that meet local need and demand,” she said.

Although, the District Councils Network was critical of ResPublica’s study with the network’s chair John Fuller claiming it promotes “a sterile and rather tiresome debate” about structures but fails to focus on the needs of local people and local geography.

He said: “Districts have long demonstrated their appetite for increased devolution and the transformation of local government in localities.”

Fuller argued that it was the DCN’s long-held position was that local government transformation should be driven by “bottom up solutions”. 

He said these solutions can operate at a scale which makes sense to residents and can drive growth and improve people’s lives.

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