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County leaders back single unitaries and seek 'strong links' with Treasury

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Senior county council politicians from across the country have backed reorganisation to single county unitaries and called on government to support the move.

During a session at the County Councils Network annual conference yesterday senior councillors and leaders welcome the findings of a CCN commissioned report into reorganisation. The research by EY claimed that making all current two-tier counties into single unitaries could save up to £2.9bn over five years.

Michael Appleyard (Con), deputy leader, Buckinghamshire CC, said counties must make the case to the Treasury for more unitaries.

“It’s become clearly apparent to us in Buckinghamshire that we need to make some very strong links with the Treasury,” said Cllr Appleyard.

“There is enormous benefit to the Treasury of going the way we are proposing and they have to understand that and put some pressure on DCLG.”

Buckinghamshire CC has put forward a proposal to the government to form a single unitary for the county. Communities secretary Sajid Javid yesterday praised the county’s proposal, although he said he did not necessarily advocate the same structure for all counties.

Oxfordshire CC leader Ian Hudspeth (Con)

County leaders back unitaries and seek ‘strong links’ with Treasury

Oxfordshire CC leader Ian Hudspeth (Con)

Oxfordshire CC leader Ian Hudspeth (Con), who was caught by surprise when the county’s districts launched a plan for three unitaries earlier this year, also backed single county unitaries.

“We all say we can’t upset our district council colleagues. I’m sorry, they have done it themselves,” said Cllr Hudspeth.

“Earlier this year Oxfordshire district councils all clubbed together and put in a bid. It failed. Even with the backing of the prime minister it actually failed. So that shows that it isn’t the way forward.

“We’ve got to stand up for ourselves. We should be shouting loudly that this is the way forward to save money and deliver better services for our residents.”

Kay Cutts, leader of the Conservative group on Nottinghamshire CC, said district leaders sitting on county councils were blocking the creation of new unitaries, from which the savings would be “irrefutable”.

“[The problem] lies with the district council leaders, together with their chief executives,” said Cllr Cutts.

“We have to come to government now and say to them, ‘this cannot go on like this, this is all about bottling up resources we could use for the people; surely what we’re all about, delivering services not delivering vanity projects’.”

Leaders of counties which became unitary in 2009 spoke out on the benefits of reorganisation.

Simon Henig (Con), leader, Durham Council

County leaders back unitaries and seek ‘strong links’ with Treasury

Simon Henig (Lab), leader, Durham Council

Simon Henig (Lab), leader of Durham Council, called for more support from central government and criticised the stance of former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles who effectively imposed a moratorium on reorganisation during his five year tenure.

He said: “Eric Pickles’ comments [on reorganisation] led to five wasted years on this agenda. I don’t think that anything provides the efficiencies like unitary reorganisation in Durham.”

Laura Mayes (Con), Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said that “a unitary councils is just so much more powerful”.

Lynn Riley (Con), leader of the opposition group on Cheshire West & Chester Council said her authority had also benefited from unitary status.

“This is not about reorganisation,” she stressed. “The opportunity that all the last tranche of unitaries grasped with open hands was for redesign. This was not about amalgamating organisations; it was building something new, not only from a structural point of view but in terms of culture change.”

Not all county leaders backed the formation of new unitaries, however.

Peter Martin (Con), deputy leader, Surrey CC, said: “Two thirds of our net budget is for adult social care and children’s social care, so any move to two unitaries or three unitaries in Surrey would increase the cost of social care provision quite dramatically, which would offset any savings.”

Cllr Martin said that integrating health and social care would deliver more benefits and was far more important than any restructuring.

 *This story was updated to correct the fact that Durham CC leader Simon Henig is Labour, not Conservative. 

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