The Leader of Cherwell District Council has said that plans to create a single council for Oxfordshire are based on inaccurate information and will not benefit people who live here.
Cllr Barry Wood said: “The proposals put forward by Oxfordshire County Council are based upon sweeping and inaccurate information which already demonstrates the dangers of trying to apply one basic model across a varied demographic area.”
Oxfordshire County Council has proposed a single unitary authority for the county and believes this makes most sense. It wants to hear from local people as part of a consultation process.
The county currently has a two-tier local government – a county council plus five district and city councils. Oxfordshire County Council thinks that all of Oxfordshire’s six councils should be abolished and replaced with one new unitary council which it says would save £20m each year – money that would pay for better services and keep council tax low. That money would be enough to fill over 300,000 potholes or provide 1 million hours of home care.
The council says that to have one authority would be simpler for residents and business, with one website and one point of contact.
A spokesman said: “One councillor would represent your community and be accountable for all services. As members of an ‘area board’ serving the existing district or city areas, each councillor would take decisions affecting their community and the county. Environmental services such as street cleaning, countryside services and grounds maintenance would be properly joined up and managed locally to respond to community needs.”
The reason for the proposed change is because central government is changing the way councils are funded, and councils will soon have to pay for services mainly from council tax and business rates. Unless local government is reorganised, Oxfordshire County Councils claims that it will be difficult to pay for vital public services for local communities and vulnerable people as the population increases and gets older.
Cllr Wood added: “The county council refers to reducing services in order to make savings; at Cherwell, we have protected all of our frontline services by adopting joint working and identifying opportunities for income generation through commercialisation. Unlike the county council, we have not increased our share of council tax for seven years and still no services have been cut here; in fact, we have intervened where the county council has cut services which residents value. Last summer Cherwell funded a grass cutting programme at its own expense after the county council failed to fulfil its duties, despite being in receipt of funding to do so.”
Oxfordshire County Council says that bringing together social services, housing, leisure and welfare benefits would mean joined up support for people who need extra help, improving health and wellbeing. And joining up planning, housing, jobs and transport would mean Oxfordshire’s housing shortage can be addressed, along with investment in vital infrastructure such as roads.
Cllr Wood added: “To cite changes to housing delivery as a problem in Cherwell is wrong; Cherwell is one of the only districts in Oxfordshire with an adopted Local Plan and we are one of the UK’s leading districts in housing delivery, including affordable housing. We are committed to supporting Oxford City Council in meeting its unmet housing need and have just finished consulting on options for so doing and we are continuing to grow the economy with new employment opportunities to support the growing population.
“The current rate of unemployment in Cherwell stands at less than 0.4 per cent which equates to less than 300 people and the lowest figure to be recorded for this district. Since 2013/ 2014 significant levels of inward investment have been secured alongside the growth of new and existing businesses which means Cherwell now collects the largest sum of business rates of any other council in this county.
“The county council and its report have failed to take into consideration the individual challenges and successes of each district; to try and force a like-for-like comparison would be like trying to compare apples with oranges. But if a county-wide unitary model were adopted the specific needs of each district would be ignored in favour of the needs of the county, with a sterile uniformity and local voices would be lost in the distance. The success of delivering housing and economic growth in Cherwell, coupled with this council’s stable budget and protected services demonstrates that the existing model does work if hard work, commitment and foresight are applied.
“Under the current two tier model Oxfordshire County Council has consistently failed to manage its own budget and has axed vital services to residents whereas Cherwell has protected its services while also managing to thrive and grow. By increasing the county council’s control of Oxfordshire this would only increase the opportunity for more failings and would remove Cherwell’s ability to innovate, step in and put right what the county continues to do wrong.”
This is a draft proposal and Oxfordshire County Council wants to hear from residents, before finalising the proposal and sending it to the government for a decision. To find out more and have your say, go to www.oneoxfordshire.org or go to a drop-in event at a library near you. Dates of the events are available on the website.