Lines continue to advance in battle over unitary authority proposals

CDC leader Barry Wood
CDC leader Barry Wood

A push to simplify local government in Oxfordshire in a bid to save cash has been meeting a lot of resistance from several quarters in the county.

Since Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) unveiled its vision for One Oxfordshire, which would see the six district and county councils replaced with one unitary authority, the district councils have been split over their support for the proposal.

On one side is Cherwell, West Oxfordshire and Oxford City councils, which are vehemently opposed while on the other, Vale of the White Horse and South Oxfordshire district councils have thrown their support behind OCC.

This has lead to a war of words between the two sides.

Now the group opposed to the proposal have been taking steps to secure their position.

WODC has allocated £25,000 towards a ‘fighting fund’ against what they call a ‘super council’, which is to be spent on a social media campaign, communications strategy, online survey and signs in prominent positions in the district.

At WODC’s full council meeting last week, leader James Mills presented letters from residents which he said supported its position.

The council has claimed free parking and low council tax would be at risk if a unitary authority goes ahead.

At the meeting he said: “I am representing the views of our residents. This is just a small sample of the letters, emails and telephone calls I have received.

“This is not a programme of this council’s making but when it is so clear how our residents feel, I believe we must relay the other side of the story.”

The political leaders opposed to the unitary authority plans have also sent a letter to the secretary of state for communities and local government, Sajid Javid, requesting an urgent meeting.

Meanwhile, a petition to stop the proposal has been launched by Cherwell District Council on the website, which has so far received around 750 signatures.

The petition states: “Proposals for a unitary county council would put our services and priorities at risk.

“You may not agree with everything we do but even Oxfordshire County Council has recognised Cherwell as an example of a ‘successful’ council; we do not fail.

“This is not about what political party you vote for, it is about whether Cherwell District Council remains in control of local services for local people. A single point of contact is a single point of failure.”

The petition will be used in a bid to demonstrate the public backs retaining CDC.

Leader Barry Wood said: “Plans for a unitary authority would mean a local voice would be lost; decisions affecting the district would be made by people at a county level who would prioritise the needs of Oxfordshire over those of Cherwell. The decision on the future of Cherwell should be made by people in Cherwell and if they are opposed to this model they need to make their voices known now by signing this petition.”

But a spokeswoman from OCC said: “Rather than launching a petition to preserve the status quo, we urge Cherwell District Council to get around the table with us to develop a brand new model for local government in Oxfordshire that meets the future needs and aspirations of residents. By working together we can save £20m each year – money that could be used to improve valued frontline services.”