Oxfordshire County Council agrees unitary bid

OXFORDSHIRE County Council's cabinet has formally approved submitting a bid to create a new unitary authority to the Government.

The proposal, called A New Council for a Better Oxfordshire, would scrap six existing authorities, including the county council, and replace it with a single, county-wide body.

Independent studies by Grant Thornton and PwC estimate the move could save £100m in the first five years through improved efficiency and joined-up services, the county council has said.

It has also argued that the shift towards funding services locally through council tax and business rates means that without reorganisation, Oxfordshire's local government will not be able to pay for services for its growing and ageing population.

The plan has been developed by the county council, along with South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse district councils. Following a meeting of the county council's cabinet, all three have now agreed to formally submit the bid to local government secretary Sajid Javid.

However, the unitary model does not have universal support.

Cherwell District Council, West Oxfordshire District Council and Oxford City Council oppose the switch. They have released polling by Ipsos Mori showing 67 per cent of residents want decision-making to remain at district and city level. Another 82 per cent said they had little or no understanding of the unitary proposals.

The councils added that the county's own online research shows 74 per cent of residents are opposed to the unitary switch.

Cllr Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council, said: "The county council's bid to abolish five successful district councils has been decisively rejected by residents across the whole county area, who are not fooled by a glossy PR campaign.

"If they proceed to submit a proposal to government that lacks a shred of popular support, they will be riding roughshod over the public."

But county council leader Cllr Ian Hudspeth said all six councils have agreed on the need for charge and a single unitary authority represents the "best form of local government for Oxfordshire".

"In contrast, choosing the status quo is a decision with real downsides. It means continuing to spend money on running six councils, rather than improving council services, which is what the vast majority of residents want," he added.

"In agreeing the revised Better Oxfordshire proposal, we are now showing that change is possible, as well as necessary."