County unveils plans for unitary authority

Press conference to launch the One Oxfordshire restructuring of the various councils within Oxfordshire. West Oxford Community Centre, Botley Road. L-R: Richard Webber, Liz Brighouse and Ian Hudspeth  18th January 2017 Picture: Andrew Walmsley NNL-170118-173657001

Press conference to launch the One Oxfordshire restructuring of the various councils within Oxfordshire. West Oxford Community Centre, Botley Road. L-R: Richard Webber, Liz Brighouse and Ian Hudspeth 18th January 2017 Picture: Andrew Walmsley NNL-170118-173657001

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A single local authority running all council services in Oxfordshire could save around £100 million over the first five years according to Oxfordshire County Council (OCC).

Today (Thursday) OCC launched its ‘One Oxfordshire’ vision which outlines proposals for the abolition of all six councils – OCC and the five city and district councils – and the creation of a unitary council.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council NNL-150411-132839001

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council NNL-150411-132839001

The new authority would see the joining up of all services currently provided by the six councils, including transport, planning, housing and social services, to be managed on a county-wide basis.

It would also see a reduction in the number of councillors, from 282 posts across the six councils to between 100 and 125 in the new unitary council.

In a bid to reduce concerns about local accountability, area executive boards would be created, serving current city and district areas and with formal decision-making powers.

OCC has said with local councils soon having to pay for services mainly through council tax and business rates as the government continues to reduce funding, a reorganisation of local government is needed so Oxfordshire councils can continue to pay for vital public services such as children and adult social care.

OCC leader Ian Hudspeth, said: “Councils in Oxfordshire have become a lot more efficient but we cannot continue to make savings without further cuts to local services.

“I want local government’s limited budget to be spent on improving services rather than running six separate organisations.

“We already know residents are confused about who does what. One council for Oxfordshire would be more efficient and simpler for residents, with one phone number, one website and one point of contact.

“We cannot turn our back on the £100m saving over the first five years – money that can used to improve services and keep council tax down. While we delay reorganising local government, we are wasting around £400,000 every week on running six councils – that would fill 307,000 potholes or provide home care for 1,687 older people.”

Two independent studies by Grant Thorton and PwC, commissioned by OCC and the district councils, say the £100 million saved after a one of cost of £16 million for reorganisations, would come from the removal of back office duplications.

Under the proposals a network of community hubs based in libraries, leisure centres, fire stations and health facilities would improve access to services.

There could also be the creation of an fund to help fill a £1.7 billion gap in funding for infrastructure projects.

OCC is asking for residents’ views before finalising its proposal and sending it to government.

For more, visit www.oneoxfordshire.org or your local library. The public response will be considered by OCC’s cabinet on March 14.