My concerns about the Unitary solution

I had this to say in full council meeting on 15 Feb 2017.


I think we all agree that a single, countywide unitary authority is best for the residents of Vale. I also think it’s best for residents of Oxfordshire, but many disagree.

If we follow the paraphrased advice of Edmund Burke here, we will prioritise first our judgement of what is in the best interests of the wider county, second the opinions of our local council and wards, and last the interests of our political party.

I have three main concerns about the coming decision.

My first concern is that this proposal must be modified to adequately address the needs of rural communities and not just urban, and in a way that recognises the unique needs of each area, especially Oxford City, and doesn’t supply a simple one-size-fits-all solution that’s just an ‘average’ and so satisfies nothing very well.

My second concern is that this Tory-led movement will silence or marginalise other voices in the county. Since the people haven’t had a chance to vote on this, the county and districts’ ruling groups do not have a mandate to reorganise local government. This isn’t a decision that can simply be reversed by casting a different vote at the next election. Once we’re reorganised, it can’t be undone. To mitigate that, I’d like see steps taken to include other voices besides solely Tory ones. It would help if Labour-run City were at the table. But more broadly, and as a principle, I think a good solution is to have an opposition voice from each council seated on whatever transition board is set up to manage this change.

My third concern is highlighted by the misunderstandings people already have of what is being proposed. That is best mitigated by a better communications campaign, in my opinion. For example, having a look at the dissent online, petitions and Facebook postings, people think the districts will be turning over management of their business to county, and object to that based on their perceptions of county’s ability to manage well. They haven’t got the point that ALL councils will be disbanded and a whole new council elected. A better PR campaign is needed. (PR  Public Relations, not Proportional Representation, at least not in this instance.)

But overall, the Liberal Democrats’ view is that the needs of the people of Oxfordshire are best served by a single, county-wide unitary authority.