Organisation calls on county council to join devolution study

A reorganisation of local government in Oxfordshire requires joint working between district and county councils according to a local group.
Cllr Barry Wood NNL-140226-131631001Cllr Barry Wood NNL-140226-131631001
Cllr Barry Wood NNL-140226-131631001

Oxfordshire Growth Board is urging Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) to work with the county’s five district councils on a joint study into devolution.

The districts – Cherwell, Oxford City, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and West Oxfordshire – plan to commission a study, to be carried out by independent experts, to investigate all the options for how the county’s six councils could be reorganised in a bid to improve local services and save taxpayers’ money.

And at a meeting of Cherwell District Council’s (CDC) executive on Monday, councillors agreed to proceed with the study and to contribute £50,000 towards it.

But Oxfordshire County Council has decided to pursue its own investigation.

Oxfordshire Growth Board, a committee of the county’s six councils responsible for delivering collaborative projects, agreed a motion last week, which states: “The Oxfordshire Growth Board notes the response from government to the devolution proposals that were presented collectively to DCLG/BIS/cabinet office in December 2015 indicated clearly that a different and stronger form of governance was required for the proposals to make progress.

“The board also notes that, in order to take forward a devolution bid, the five district councils, together with South Northants and Cotswold District Councils, have commissioned a feasibility study for a wide range of unitary local government options.

“The board welcomes this initiative and urges Oxfordshire County Council to join with the districts in the commissioning and managing of this study, rather than duplicating this work by commissioning a separate study to cover the same ground.”

Although the decision by CDC’s executive needs to be approved by full council, CDC must commit to spending the £50,000 before the next full council meeting, which is the annual meeting due to be held on May 17. As a result, councillors at Monday’s meeting have agreed to ask the chief executive to use her urgency action powers to implement the decision.

Council leader, Barry Wood, said it was hoped the study could be completed by the end of June with the possibility of ‘decisions being made’ by the budget next spring.

OCC leader Ian Hudspeth said: “We will know that the district councils are serious about partnership working when they talk to us before issuing press releases telling us what we should be doing.

“What we proposed from the start was a proper independent study treating all options equally with proper involvement from all partners, this was ignored by the districts who have commissioned a study designed to give them the answer they seek. They have said they have amended the study and asked us to join, yet we still have not seen those changes. What they seem to be trying to do is repair a deeply flawed tender, which we have no confidence can be achieved. We have no alternative but to do our own study and invite key stakeholders to participate.

“The county council published an invitation to tender for an independent study that would look at all the options for local government reform. We would be happy to pause this process and talk to the districts about a joint, independently commissioned study. But until they are actually prepared to talk to us rather than issue media statements, we are continuing to proceed.”