Grant Thornton UK LLP has been asked to carry out an objective, evidence-led review of how local government could be restructured to reduce costs and protect vital services. This could include the status quo.
Alternative options could include the creation of one or more new ‘unitary’ councils, which would be responsible for all local government services rather than the current split between the county and districts.
The county’s district councils, as well as South Northants Council and Cotswold District Council have already appointed their own consultants to look into a devolution deal for Oxfordshire.
In April, the seven councils appointed PwC to carry out its own study after calling on OCC not to duplicate the work already being undertaken.
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Councillor Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Grant Thornton impressed us with their knowledge of local government and commitment to conducting an independent study that looked carefully at all the options equally.
“I am convinced local government needs to change in Oxfordshire, and it is vital that we make the right decision to protect council services for the future.
“The key issue for me is not about structures but more about how we can join up services efficiently to provide the best possible services for the people of Oxfordshire.
“Council tax payers will want to know the facts so they can make up their own minds, and that is what this independent review will provide. We will be publishing the findings as soon as we have them so we can involve everyone in that debate. After all, it is about our future.”
The county council is assembling an independent advisory group to support the work of Grant Thornton, overseen by an independent chairman. The advisory group will offer impartial advice and local knowledge to Grant Thornton.
The county council’s brief asked Grant Thornton to consider local government structures that would improve the provision of local services, particularly for the vulnerable; would save cash and provide value for money; provide stronger and more accountable leadership; drive economic growth and meet the infrastructure challenge, and; would engage with communities and empower local areas.
Guy Clifton, head of local government advisory at Grant Thornton said: “We are pleased to have been appointed by the council, to support them in this key area of strategic planning. Through our partnership we hope to help ensure a sustainable future for local government services for the communities and businesses of Oxfordshire.
“As a firm, we are committed to creating a vibrant economy in the UK, which will allow businesses, communities and people to flourish. As part of this, we are helping public sector organisations rethink the way they operate and looking at how better collaboration and innovation in the sector can help build stronger public services for the future.”