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Devo deal talks revived but reorganisation looms large

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Discussions over a mayoral devolution deal for Oxfordshire have been revived but plans for reorganisation loom large.

Oxford City Council’s devolution review group has called for an Oxfordshire combined authority led by an elected mayor, putting the city on a collision course with Oxfordshire CC’s plan for unitary reorganisation.

The review group’s report, published this week, said: “We found that the structure of the combined authority plus elected mayor balanced the objectives of strong, accountable governance, with high quality service delivery with securing an agreement expeditiously.”

It said there was “much to learn” from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal, which used this model.

There is a history of ill-feeling between Oxfordshire and its districts after the latter last year said the county should be split in three in a unitary reorganisation also involving South Northamptonshire DC and Gloucestershire’s Cotswold DC.

That idea foundered and the county then proposed a single council for Oxfordshire, which the report noted “has not been supported by the district leaders”.

With a local stalemate and ministers unwilling to intervene the combined authority option would be the best way forward, and had been endorsed by Oxfordshire’s local enterprise partnership, it noted.

West Oxfordshire DC’s leader James Mills (Con) said: “Residents are not interested in what they perceive as local councils squabbling among themselves.

“What is important is delivering infrastructure and I believe devolution can do that.”

A motion which went before Cherwell DC in November supported a combined authority “with an elected mayor if that is required by government”.

A spokesman for Oxfordshire CC said the county would work with the districts on a devolution bid likely to include an elected mayor but added “abolishing all six councils and creating one, brand new council for Oxfordshire is still the best way to improve services and reduce costs. We will be publishing a proposal for public comment shortly.”

County leader Ian Hudspeth (Con) wrote for LGC in December that he wanted to see a unitary with five area executive boards below it.





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