Buckinghamshire set for single unitary status

2 Nov 18

The communities secretary is set to give the green light to a single unitary authority for Buckinghamshire despite opposition from the county’s district councils.

James Brokenshire yesterday told Parliament he had been “persuaded” that a single unitary authority should replace the five councils within the county. The new authority will be established on 1 April 2020.

In a written statement, Brokenshire said: “Given the desire and thrust for change and innovation in Buckinghamshire, the five councils agree that the current structures are not sustainable… I am persuaded that the right course of action is to establish a new single unitary district council for Buckinghamshire.”

Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Buckinghamshire and Wycombe councils, however, have objected to the plan, arguing it does not have strong local support. The districts favour a two-unitary structure, while the county has lobbied for a single unitary.

John Fuller, chair of the District Councils’ Network umbrella group, said: “This unwelcome decision has not secured the local consent amongst the elected local councils that was called for in March.”

He blamed the decision on “ill-conceived legislation” – the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act. This act contains a sunset clause, which expires next March, permitting the secretary of state to fast track structural and boundary changes with the consent of only one local authority.

Brokenshire said that “the great majority” of local public sector partners backed the plans including the police, ambulance service, clinical commissioning group and NHS trusts.

He also said it would improve local government and establish a “credible geography”, thus meeting the criteria needed for structural change.

Brokenshire did acknowledge there were concerns that a single unitary might weaken democratic engagement at the most local level.

“To help reassure any who might be concerned on this, I intend to speak with five councils to determine whether I should modify the proposal before implementing it,” he said.

Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, hailed the decision as “historic” and called for unity among local leaders.

“The announcement paves the way for a brand new council, fit for the future, created by combining the best of both county and district councils,” he said.

“This new council will be simpler, better value and more local to our residents. It will also have more clout to face head-on the great strategic challenges facing the county over the coming decades.”

Brokenshire said he would also consult on whether to delay local elections due to take place in May 2019, to avoid councillors being elected for only one year.

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