As the four district leaders in Buckinghamshire, we are writing in response to Baroness Scott’s piece last week which we felt was misleading. With our county facing the biggest changes to council services in more than four decades, it’s important to set the record straight.
Whilst Sajid Javid, the former secretary of state, announced back in March that he is “minded to” implement a single county-wide unitary, he also invited further representations until the end of May and acknowledged that more needs to be done to secure local consent. That is far from a final decision.
We think that there is still everything to play for. None of the statutory guidance that’s been issued this year is applicable to the Buckinghamshire proposals. And we know that our proposal is still on the table and being considered by ministers.
We make absolutely no apology for making the case for two new unitary councils in Bucks to our residents. And to accuse us of being dishonest in our communications is in itself entirely disingenuous. This is a big change and it’s really important that all of our local stakeholders are aware of what this means for them and are given the opportunity to have their say, whatever their view may be.
Crucially though, the vision for two unitaries actually has strong support from local people. A survey of 1,000 residents (commissioned by Buckinghamshire CC) showed 67% of residents backing two unitaries. Our community engagement has also shown significant support amongst parishes, community groups and businesses. All of this evidence shows clearly that there is no consensus for a single unitary in Buckinghamshire and this is something the government must take account of.
Our case for change is based on putting a structure in place that aligns with the county’s unique circumstances, while delivering significant savings (£58m over five years) and keeping local services local. Our case reflects the natural geography of Bucks, which is divided by the Chiltern Hills, while ensuring local accountability for services and a strong strategic focus on promoting economic growth from two very distinct social and economic centres, which currently have very different priorities.
There is no one size fits all solution to how local government should be structured. A single unitary may well be the best system in some areas but it’s just not right for Bucks and, in the interests of strong democracy, our residents and other stakeholders must be fully aware of all the options for their future.
Neil Blake (Con), leader, Aylesbury Vale DC;
Isobel Darby (Con), leader, Chiltern DC;
Nick Naylor (Con), leader, South Buckinghamshire DC
Katrina Wood (Con), leader, Wycombe DC