A survey commissioned by Buckinghamshire CC has surfaced suggesting limited public support for the county’s single unitary proposal.
A report on the result of the phone survey, conducted in Spring 2017 and only recently made public, said 67% of 1,000 randomly selected residents indicated support for a two-unitary option.
This contrasts with the findings of an open online questionnaire which showed majority support for the single unitary option backed by housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid last month.
The company commissioned to carry out the surveys, Opinion Research Services, said the phone survey would provide “a statistically reliable estimate” of public opinion, while the open questionnaire “cannot normally be expected to be representative of the general balance of opinion”.
The leaders of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Buckinghamshire and Wycombe DCs have seized on report, claiming it is further evidence of public support for their two-unitary option.
In a joint statement Neil Blake (Con), Isobel Darby (Con), Nick Naylor (Con) and Katrina Wood (Con) said: “Given that we’re facing the biggest changes to local services in Bucks for 40 years it’s extremely disappointing that such strong evidence, carried out by a reliable company, has not been shared with the public before now. We sincerely hope it’s been sent to the secretary of state before he makes a final decision which will affect residents for decades to come.
“Despite having to wait several months, these findings very much match what we are hearing on the ground from residents – that there is more support for two new unitary councils than for one.
“For many, a single unitary will be too distant and there is a big question mark over the quality of services that would be provided and whether the savings claimed can actually be delivered.”
Following Mr Javid’s announcement, the district councils said they will make the “strongest possible recommendations” in order to challenge Mr Javid’s decision.
Buckinghamshire CC leader Martin Tett (Con) at the time called on all councils to “put any differences to one side to ensure that we can give our residents a far simpler system by offering better value and more joined-up services”.
Cllr Tett today described the survey as “old news being warmed up”.
He said the purpose of the research was to establish whether there was public support for a change to a unitary structure and all findings were supplied to the government ahead of Mr Javid’s decision.
Cllr Tett added: “The secretary of state was exceptionally clear in his statement that creating two small unitaries was not a viable model for this area. They would be too small and would lack financial sustainability.
“Our proposal with a greater level of savings and efficiencies plus a commitment to devolution to local parishes and town councils is a proven model in local government and offered the best approach.”