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REORGANISATION: 'SINGLE UNITARY AUTHORITY WILL SAVE TAXPAYERS MILLIONS'

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Cheshire taxpayers will save over£4m a year at the very least if the county is governed by a single unitary author...
Cheshire taxpayers will save over £4m a year at the very least if the county is governed by a single unitary authority.

The saving is revealed today in the Boundary Committee for England's draft recommendations for new structures of local government in the north-west.*

The options for consultation are:-

1.A single unitary council for Cheshire.

2.Two unitary authorities based on an east/west division of the county.

3.Three unitary authorities based on a pairing of existing districts councils.

On the first option, the committee states: 'Based on the proven performance of the existing county council a unitary authority of this size should have the capacity to deliver county and district services effectively and efficiently.'

In its report the committee recognises that its required review of the costs of 'being in business' show a £4.2m saving with a single unitary authority,

compared to an east/west division and £6.3m cheaper than if Cheshire were divided into three.

It also emphasises that these figures do not include the total transitional or on-going costs of change.

Cheshire CC's submission for a single unitary authority, showed that a two unitary option would cost an additional £7m to £8m and a three unitary model, £15m to £17m extra - £174 per annum on a Band D tax bill.

Said leader Paul Findlow: 'I am delighted that the Boundary Committee has recognised the strength of our submission which we strongly believe is in the very best interests of the people of Cheshire.

'Indeed, the report also supports our contention that this totally needless reorganisation of local government will cost the council taxpayer dearly.'

The Boundary Committee refers to the council's contention that a one unitary authority would cause the least disruption to Cheshire's high quality services.

Says its report: 'It has been proposed that the retention of County Council services in their existing form w ould be the least disruptive option, while allowing for the extension of economies of scale to services currently being provided at district level.

'We consider that this option would have the capacity to provide the full range of local government services, including existing council functions and would have a strong strategic resource base.'

The committee acknowledges that the council's 'Excellent' rating by the Audit Commission and its performance in large scale services such as education and social services is supported by positive inspection reports.

Added Cllr Findlow: 'The people of Cheshire have told us repeatedly that their two major concerns on this issue are cost and the potential disruption to high quality services ??? particularly education.

'I find it highly relevant that the committee highlights 'a lack of persuasive argumentation and evidence about how large scale services such as education and social services, would be delivered under a three unitary pattern'.'

One of the most important parts of the council submission is the intention to bring democracy closer to communities across the county.

Its blueprint will increase local decision making and reinvigorate local democracy through devolution of powers to a minimum of 12 new area committees, working closely with town and parish councils.

Said Lib Dem leader Sue Proctor: 'Cheshire County Council already provides around 80% of the services received across the county and has more people working to provide those services in every hamlet village and town. Less than 4% of our workforce are based at County Hall.

'Under our plan people at grass roots level will be able to have responsibility for major decision making and in their own communities ... and that has to be a huge improvement to the democratic process.'

The committee considers that one of the most important challenges faced by a single unitary authority would be to be sufficiently 'local' to effectively represent all the communi ties in the county whilst providing local services.

But it concedes: 'We feel a single unitary council offers a viable model as it progresses many issues relating to effective and convenient local government, particularly in the provision of large scale services'.

In the next few weeks the people of Cheshire will be able to make their views known on the three options and final proposals will be submitted to the Deputy Prime Minister. Next Autumn the public will be asked to vote on finalised options as part of a referendum on regional government.

Said Derek Bateman, Labour group leader and former chairman of the North West Regional Assembly: 'We believe that only a single unitary council will provide a strength, expertise and resources to enable the county to maintain its important strategic role in the north-west.

'Cheshire and Warrington is already regarded as sub-region in relation to many decisions affecting the region.

'Indeed, the county operates effectively at regional, sub regional, national and international levels. The only way to maintain an influential voice for Cheshire people is through a single powerful council.

Added Cllr Bateman: 'On the one hand we would have an authority with all the strategic clout that Cheshire demands and on the other a system which brings democracy to the people in a way that has never been attempted before.'

* PUTTING DRAFT OPTIONS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ON THE TABLE

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