Leicestershire CC on Friday became the latest county to announce that it sought to create a new unitary authority.
The county’s leader Nick Rushton (Con) said he had written to the communities and housing secretary to ask for a meeting to discuss both the proposal to reorganise his county and East Midlands authorities’ plans to form a combined authority.
LGC revealed in April how council leaders across the region had begun discussions to form a “strategic alliance” to counterbalance the growing might of the West Midlands CA. Leicestershire believes such a body would be boosted through the simplification of current local government structures.
“I believe the time has come to consider having a modern, progressive council for Leicestershire, to replace the county council and the seven district councils,” Cllr Rushton said on Friday. ”Whilst I have my own preference of a single council with direct links to local communities through towns and parishes, there may be other options to consider.”
There has been a significant upsurge in moves to reorganise council boundaries over the past year. Restructuring is underway in Dorset, has been recommended by ministers for Northamptonshire, and will plausibly happen in places including Somerset, Buckinghamshire and Lancashire.
According to Leicestershire, a new unitary authority could save £30m in administrative costs each year. The county council needs to reduce costs by £50m over the coming four-year period.
The council will now draw up a list of options and proposals for public consultation and the issue will be discussed at a full county council meeting “later this year”.
Cllr Rushton told LGC: “My preferred outcome would be to create a ‘doughnut unitary’ with Leicester in the middle. I believe that two unitaries [in the existing two-tier area] would not be ideal, because it would halve the savings.”
Leicestershire has a total population of 680,500, which is roughly double the government’s minimum population size guidance of 300,000 for a unitary authority.
Cllr Rushton said that he was not in support of a mayor, “even for a combined authority” covering the East Midlands. For his county he was looking towards the model seen in Cornwall Council which could be augemented by “re-empowered” town and parish councils.
Charnwood BC leader Jonathan Morgan (Con) said a single county unitary was “unlikely to happen” because ministers said they would not support proposals not supported by MPs and districts, as well as counties and the public.
“There may be a strong case for reviewing the local government structure in the county, but any proposals need to have the backing of all those involved, following proper debate,” he said. ”Over the coming months, other, better supported options, are likely to come forward and provide the same levels of savings, but with better local representation.”