Local government in Leicestershire faces its “biggest shake-up” in almost 50 years, if new reorganisation plans from the county council are approved.
A new report to go before the county council’s cabinet on 16 October recommends a single ‘doughnut’ unitary authority for the whole county, but excluding unitary Leicester City Council, potentially saving around £30m a year.
The report said £62m of savings are required from all authorities by 2022 to plug a funding gap, on top of a raise in council tax totalling £57m.
The move, however, has already met with opposition from at least Charnwood BC leader Jonathan Morgan (Con) who told LGC unitarisation was “never going to happen” as it lacked the support of the county’s MPs and district leaders and enjoyed “no apparent support from local residents”.
“The only way this is going to happen is with an act of Parliament which requires parliamentary time and the support of the local MPs. Every single one of the county’s MPs outside of Leicester have said the same thing: they are not supporting the county council’s approach,” he said.
Leicestershire CC leader Nick Rushton (Con) said the report was published in response to a “bleak” financial situation that all councils are facing.
Cllr Rushton said: “Across Leicestershire, local government is facing millions of pounds of savings, meaning we simply can’t go on paying for old fashioned bureaucracy and duplication.”
In finding Leicestershire has “an expensive structure of local government”, the new report said the county faced a “structural problem” that needs “fixing”. These problems should also be addressed before government borrowing costs increase from current levels, which the report described as “historically low”.
Cllr Rushton described reorganisation as ”the biggest shake-up locally for almost 50 years”.
“That means working together with councillors and other stakeholders to draw up a new structure, fit for the 21st century, and I look forward to hearing their views,” he added.
In response, the leaders of Blaby, Harborough and North West Leicestershire DCs and Charnwood, Hinckley and Bosworth, Melton, and Oadby & Wigston BCs said in a joint statement that they were “continuing to work together to look at future service delivery” in the county, to ensure it remains “lean, effective and in touch with residents”.
“Any potential changes need to be based on a thorough assessment of all options and backed by evidence and communities. The district councils will ensure residents, partners and stakeholders are involved in the conversation and fully consulted. The needs of our residents will be put first,” they said.
Last month, the district and borough leaders described their “surprise” at the county council’s proposal for reorganisation, first issued in June, which they said had been published without prior consultation.
Cllr Rushton told LGC in June that his “preferred outcome” for reorganisation would be to “create a ‘doughnut unitary’ with Leicester in the middle”.
He said: “I believe that two unitaries [in the existing two-tier area] would not be ideal, because it would halve the savings.”