Buckinghamshire is one of the country’s best places to live and work but we need to change our local government; not just through a restructure – the infamous moving of deckchairs – but real change.
Bucks two unitary proposal
This week the four district councils in Buckinghamshire presented a proposal to communities secretary Sajid Javid to abolish the county and district authorities in Buckinghamshire and replace them with two new unitaries: one in the north alongside Milton Keynes and one in the south to cover the area of the three southern district councils, saving almost £58m over five years.
To allow the minister time to properly consider our proposal, a decision on Buckinghamshire CC’s proposal for a single county-wide unitary will not now be made in January; the minister is not expected to express a preference until March.
Late last year, we engaged with 146 key stakeholder organisations across Buckinghamshire: 73% favoured a multiple unitary model, whilst only 27% said they would prefer a single unitary.
This helped form our proposal for innovative change.
Our vision is for local government that:
- has one direction: each council focused on one economic geography
- is even more local: two councils provide greater local accountability
- is more effective: the right service at the right time improves outcomes and builds resilience
- is more efficient: thriving economies and resilient communities provide sustainability.
It is imperative that we seize this once in a generation opportunity to enable the two distinct areas to achieve their full potential. The north and south of Buckinghamshire are very different. A unitary Aylesbury will maximise the potential for housing growth through the Oxford to Cambridge corridor, and in the south a unitary will focus on meeting the needs of growing businesses seeking a UK base close to London.
There are many different communities within the county. There are distinct differences between the two main towns of High Wycombe and Aylesbury. There are also different challenges faced in the different housing areas. The design and delivery of local services by two new unitaries would be sensitive to those different needs (article continues below).
Bucks economic geography
We are well led and managed councils. We have demonstrated a strong track record of innovation in the face of financial challenges whilst maintaining high-quality service provision.
For example, Aylesbury Vale DC has reshaped its business model to become more efficient and commercially-minded, saving £14m over the last six years. Chiltern and South Buckinghamshire DC have achieved £1.5m annual savings by sharing all services and moving to joint IT networks and infrastructure. Wycombe DC has focused on regeneration and infrastructure using council-owned assets, saved £10m and leveraged in £500m inward investment.
But real change requires new thinking, responding to the economies of the place and to the people who live and work there. We are ready for that challenge.
Katrina Wood (Con), leader, Wycombe DC