District leaders have raised concerns with housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire about a “horrifying” bid by Nottinghamshire CC to establish a county unitary.
County councillors, including former District Councils Network chair Neil Clarke (Con), last Thursday backed a motion by Nottinghamshire leader Kay Cutts (Con) to devise a business case for abolishing the seven districts - in a move Nottingham City Council has warned will see it press to extend its boundary.
The motion said a single county unitary would save £20-30m “currently tied up in bureaucracy”.
Cllr Cutts argued that a unitary would give the county “a much louder, more influential voice within national government” and increase the chance of a devolution deal.
However, mayor of Mansfield BC Kate Allsop (Mansfield Independent Forum) told LGC five of the seven district leaders have written to Cllr Cutts to challenge the plan and question the county’s approach, which she said was “arrogant” because there had been no consultation.
LGC understands the letter, which was not signed by the leaders of Newark & Sherwood DC and Broxstowe BC, has also been sent to Mr Brokenshire.
Ms Allsop said: “The county hasn’t consulted with anybody at all and Cllr Cutts hasn’t consulted with her own members about this which is quite horrifying.
“Taking everything off to Nottingham” would not benefit residents, but said she would consider alternative unitary proposals, such as three unitaries covering Nottingham and the north and south of the county.
A late amendment to the motion made by Cllr Cutts committed the county to prepare a unitary business case and apply to the government for reorganisation only once that was approved, rather than to apply immediately as the original motion said.
But the city council has said it should extend its boundary if reorganisation takes place to include the wider urban area.
This would involve the city taking over Beeston, Stapleford and Toton from Broxtowe DC, Arnold, Carlton and Gedling from Gedling BC, Hucknall from Ashfield DC and West Bridgford from Rushcliffe BC.
Nottingham leader Jon Collins (Lab) said: “If the county council lobbies to become a single tier authority on the current boundaries, we will be forced to present alternative proposals.”
Ms Cutts said her group’s support for a new unitary authority has been public for “many years”, with district leaders “we aware” of the county’s position.
She added: “This council currently has a budget gap of £54m and pressures are rising in adults and children’s services, so if the business case confirms our initial information that moving to a unitary authority would save £23-29m, I believe this would be a better option than cutting further non-statutory services.”
She added that she wrote to district leaders and chief executives a week ahead of the motion being debated inviting them to a meeting with her individually to discuss the issue.
In April, LGC reported that leaders in the East Midlands have started talks on developing a strategic body across four counties which would operate like a combined authority and pave the way for a devolution deal.