Leicestershire’s Conservative MPs have called on the leader of the county council to end his calls for reorganisation, arguing in a joint letter that “now is not the time”.
In first arguing that there was “no substantive expression by our constituents for such change”, the MPs added that the council’s plans “present an unnecessary and wholly unwelcome distraction at this critical juncture in our county and nation’s future”.
The letter, signed by Edward Argar, Andrew Bridgen, Alberto Costa, Alan Duncan, David Tredinnick, Nicky Morgan and Neil O’Brien, also called on leader Nick Rushton (Con) to “immediately” halt any further expenditure on the project.
The letter, seen by LGC, was sent after the MPs held a meeting on the topic with housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire. According to the letter, Mr Brokenshire “agreed that it is wholly unnecessary to commission a review” into reorganisation.
It is believed this statement might not accurately reflect Mr Brokenshire’s position, however, especially as he once told LGC earlier this year there was “clear space and scope for unitary authorities”.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government was contacted for comment.
Cllr Rushton responded in a letter to Mr Costa, the original letter’s lead author, stating his intention to stick to the original scrutiny process which ends on 30 November.
Cllr Rushton said in the letter, also seen by LGC: “In two or three years’ time, we will run out of money and we will only be left trying to run statutory services or what is left of them.
“We must be in a position to plan ahead to avoid such an eventuality and not become another Northamptonshire, who have had a unitary structure imposed upon them with zero consultation.”
Details on the unitary proposals were put before the county council’s cabinet on 16 October. A report by the county’s chief executive John Sinnott forecasted that a balanced budget “will only be achieved for the next two years”.
Mr Sinnott’s report added: “Beyond this point significant new savings will have to be identified and maximum council tax increases implemented. This is clearly a worrying scenario requiring serious attention.”
The leaders of the county’s seven district and borough councils responded to the MPs’ letter with thanks, saying that “no such change is necessary and work towards it should cease immediately”.
The leaders of Blaby, Harborough and North West Leicestershire DCs and Charnwood, Hinckley and Bosworth, Melton, and Oadby & Wigston BCs said: “Districts have always worked together and we will continue to collaborate with all partners in order to deliver the best possible services to residents.”
LGC understands the main protagonists of the joint letter were Nicky Morgan, who is married to Charnwood’s leader Jonathan Morgan (Con), and Sir Alan Duncan, who in June announced that he was “on the edge” of calling for Cllr Rushton to resign as the county council’s leader.
Cllr Morgan told LGC last month that 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”.