Unitary authorities proposal could see county council abolition

Oxfordshire County Council logo NNL-160225-131148001Oxfordshire County Council logo NNL-160225-131148001
Oxfordshire County Council logo NNL-160225-131148001
Proposals for unitary authorities covering Oxfordshire and south Northants has received support from council leaders and MPs.

The plan would see the abolition of Oxfordshire County Council with its functions transferring to four new unitary councils working with the NHS, police and local enterprise partnerships.

The five Oxfordshire district council leaders are also asking the government to approve a devolution deal for the county.

The preferred option would see:

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> A new Southern Oxfordshire Unitary Authority to cover the area currently administered by Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils;

> An Oxford City Unitary Authority formed in the centre of the county, covering the area currently administered by Oxford City Council;

>A West Oxfordshire-Cotswold Unitary Authority covering the area currently administered by West Oxfordshire District Council and Cotswold District Council, and;

> A Cherwell-South Northants Unitary Authority covering the area currently administered by Cherwell District Council and South Northamptonshire Council.

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The new proposals introduce joint working with the NHS to pool budgets and commission health and adult social care.

Speaking on behalf of the districts, leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Matthew Barber, said: “This devolution deal is a fantastic opportunity for Oxfordshire and we believe we should do everything possible to secure much needed investment for the benefit of residents, businesses and communities.

“Local unitary councils working together through a combined authority offer the best solution for the people of Oxfordshire. It will allow decision-making and service delivery to better reflect the different challenges and priorities of the people we serve.

The council leaders have included South Northants Council because the authority already works closely and shares some services with Cherwell District Council.

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South Northants Council leader, Ian McCord said: “SNC has a long standing and successful partnership with Cherwell District Council.

“We already share a management team and have joint departments in many areas. We have saved many millions of pounds through this partnership over the past five years. It seems logical to investigate the feasibility and viability of creating a combined district unitary council based on the current boundaries of both councils.

The councils will be commissioning independent experts to work with them to produce detailed and costed plans.

Detailed proposals will be considered by each of the councils prior to public consultation in the summer.

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MPs in the region have said the proposal ‘has a lot of merit’.

Prime Minister and MP for Witney, David Cameron said: “West Oxfordshire is one of the best run and most cost effective councils in the country and we are, after all, the gateway to the Cotswolds so I see a lot of advantages in exploring this option.”

North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis said: “I welcome this proposal. Cherwell and South Northamptonshire District Councils already have a well-established working relationship. I know they have a lot of new ideas that could improve service delivery and save money. I look forward to seeing how plans progress.”