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Districts launch counter proposal to Oxfordshire reorganisation

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Three districts which are opposed to the creation of a county-wide unitary authority for all of Oxfordshire have submitted a counter proposal for a combined authority to the government.

Oxford City Council, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell DCs want to form a combined authority with Oxfordshire CC and South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse DCs, as well as the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

The proposal, unveiled on Friday, does not request a devolution deal from the government, nor does it mention the prospect of adopting an elected mayor. The Conservative manifesto dropped the requirement for areas outside “great cities” to adopt elected mayors in order to gain devolution.

LGC previously reported how the ’Better Oxfordshire’ initiative, supported by Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse, would see Oxford City Council replaced by a town council, while 15-20 executive boards would be created across the county. These would have powers over policy areas such as highways, parking and health and wellbeing. Meanwhile the new unitary would be responsible for social care, education, transport, housing, planning and environmental services.

Oxford City Council, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell oppose that plan.

The latest submission from those three districts said creating a combined authority would “avoid costly, time-consuming elections, an administration overhaul and a disruption to local services that would be created by the merger of six councils”. They said the submission highlighted the importance of building more homes for local people, improved transport networks, gaining inward investment, and tackling the social care crisis.

The three council leaders, Bob Price (Lab) of Oxford, James Mills (Con) of West Oxfordshire and Barry Wood (Con) of Cherwell, said: “In light of the economic challenges the country faces and the issues facing our residents, we’re more interested in discussing how we can work together with the other councils in Oxfordshire and our partners on the issues that local people care about – supporting the local economy, housing, transport and improving services - than council structures.”

They added local government restructuring was “not likely to progress in the current context” of a minority government.

Responding to the proposals, the leaders of Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse, Ian Hudspeth, John Cotton and Matthew Barber respectively (all Con), welcomed the “contribution…to the debate about the future of council services and investment in Oxfordshire” and added: “We are reviewing their report for the very first time and will discuss our response with the other councils in due course. In the meantime, our three councils remain willing to discuss our Better Oxfordshire proposal, which is currently with the secretary of state for consideration.”

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