Council war continues over unitary proposals

Cherwell District Council leader Barry Wood. NNL-170214-171809001
Cherwell District Council leader Barry Wood. NNL-170214-171809001

Opponents of Oxfordshire County Council’s (OCC) One Oxfordshire vision have been accused of ‘living in a bubble’ after a district council leader launched a scathing attack on the proposals.

Cherwell District Council (CDC) leader Barry Wood said the plans to scrap the six district, county and city councils and replace them with a unitary authority were ‘full of holes and not fit for purpose’.

OCC is currently seeking feedback on its proposals and is holding a public consultation.

Cllr Wood said OCC was incompetent when it came to managing its budget.

He said: “Just like the roads it is supposed to maintain, OCC’s plans for a unitary authority are full of holes and not fit for purpose.

“And just like our highways, OCC is breaking up under the pressure.

“It is in a dire state of financial affairs; each year it increases its share of council tax while reducing services to the public so people end up paying more for less.

“On the other hand, Cherwell has frozen its rate of council tax for the last seven years without cutting any services meaning that, with the cost of inflation, our residents now pay less for more.

“These proposals are a last-ditch, money grabbing attempt by the county council to try to plug its debt.

“It talks about savings but these cannot be guaranteed and it will cost £16 million to implement this model which is likely to come at the expense of residents who will see an increase in council tax bills.

“There is no reference to increasing or improving the service it offers to the public; all these plans will do is put at risk the services Cherwell has worked hard to preserve and deliver.”

CDC has launched a survey of its own, which can be found at www.oneoxfordshire.org/get-involved.

In response to Cllr Wood’s comments, OCC leader Ian Hudspeth said OCC provided 80 per cent of services to Cherwell residents and one council instead of six would save £400,000 per week and £100m over five years as well as reduce bureaucracy.

He said: “Two independent reports confirmed this would be the saving – one of those having been commissioned by the district councils, including Cherwell.

“County councils, district councils and metropolitan councils all over England have had to cope with cuts in grant funding since 2010 at the same time as rising demand for social care.

“This national situation has been well covered in the national media in recent years and debated in parliament and elsewhere. It is extremely worrying councillor Wood and his colleagues at Cherwell have little concept of this well-known national picture.

“They seem to be living in a bubble in which the real day to day pressures facing local government as a whole elude them. It is a very narrow and naïve view of the world.

“The ‘no change’ option for local government in Oxfordshire does not exist.

“The choice is between change that pays for public services and change that pays to run six councils.

“Councillor Wood and his colleagues seem to want to retain six councils. In so doing they seem to be thinking more about their own futures than the needs of the Oxfordshire taxpayer and the future of the county.”

Also opposing OCC’s proposal is West Oxfordshire District Council (see page 6) and Oxford City Council while South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council are supporting OCC.