Category Archives: Unitaries

Vale approves Unitary proposal

Last night Vale of White Horse District Council approved the “Better Oxfordshire” proposal for a unitary authority to move forward toward submission to Government. 

Good debate brought up important issues that need to be recognised and solved. For example, we discussed number of councillors and their workload, how to ensure current districts’ financial reserves are used for local benefit, and how to have wider inclusion in decision making as this project moves forward. And more. 

Many councillors spoke, which is always a good sign.  

So Vale has committed. I do hope the three districts not yet on board will join us: Cherwell, West Oxfordshire and Oxford City.

My concerns about the Unitary solution

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

Unitary

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.

 

A single unitary authority for Oxfordshire

Today I’m studying the low level detail of Oxfordshire County council’s proposal for a single countywide unitary authority. 

I agree with the view that the only option is a single unitary; it’s the only approach that saves significant money by removing back office redundancy. I’m concerned about some aspects of this proposal, however. So I’m reading it closely looking for how this proposal addresses the needs of rural communities and not just urban, and how it recognises the unique needs of Oxford City and not just an ‘average’ that satisfies nothing very well. 

One big concern I have is that the Tory movement will silence or marginalise other voices in the county. Since we haven’t had a chance to vote on this, the county and districts ruling groups don’t have a mandate to reorganise local government. 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. I think a good solution is to have an opposition voice for each council seated at this transition table. 

Reading and thinking.

Vale Liberal Democrats support the OneOxfordshire proposal

The Liberal Democrat group of Vale of White Horse unanimously supports the proposal for a new countywide single unitary authority.

You can read more about the proposal here: http://www.oneoxfordshire.org/

We said this about that in a press release:

Today the Vale of White Horse DC Liberal Democrat Group have put forward the following motion for Full Council on the 15th of February that “This Council supports the proposal for a new countywide unitary authority”.  This motion has been accepted for debate. It has been proposed because Vale Liberal Democrats now feel that a county wide unitary is in the very best interests of the people of Oxfordshire.

VWHDC Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr Debby Hallett said:

“This proposal could lead to annual savings of some £20 million per annum within three years, which equates to £60,000 per day. These savings can be used to maintain and enhance the front line services people rely on, such as children’s centres, bus services, and social care for children and adults. The proposed structure, using area boards, preserves the democratic representation of local people and issues; local people will still be at the heart of decision making on local issues.”

On behalf of Vale Liberal Democrat Group

Cllr Debby Hallett, Leader

Unitaries – my motion 12 Oct 16

Last night at the Vale full council meeting, I tabled the following motion in support of one of my main objectives for this year (see my blog post about my objectives):

Council notes that government is still open to practical suggestions for devolved government.

Council notes that the benefits of devolution are far more likely to be achieved if council leaders in Oxfordshire are serious about reaching a consensus.

Council also notes that both of the recently-commissioned reports identified strengths and weaknesses in each proposal, and made recommendations for addressing them.

Council believes these recommendations are capable of forming the basis for further discussion.

Council therefore:

  • Calls on all council leaders in the county to resume talks about a workable model of local government re-organisation, with the express intention of reaching a workable consensus, and with the primary objective of achieving the best outcomes for the people of Oxfordshire in terms of service delivery and efficiencies 
  • Calls on the leader of Vale of white Horse District Council to play a full and constructive part in such talks

There was heartening debate where several councillors spoke. And then council unanimously agree to it. So, the motion carried.

My speech on this one: 

When this process first began, everybody agreed that the current two-tier system was not a sustainable solution for service delivery in Oxfordshire. No one could agree on the best solution, so the feuding local authorities commissioned two separate consultants to assess possible models of local government reorganisation. The studies were thorough and cost the taxpayers nearly £200,000. But they agreed on one thing: the savings from streamlining local government would be significant.

Our top priority should be to  preserve, and hopefully improve, delivery of services to residents of Oxfordshire. This of course includes residents of the Vale.

There’s no time for the councils’ leaders to argue amongst themselves. Time spent on defending their own power positions means time lost to find a workable solution to save vital services. Leaders appear to be unable, or unwilling, to compromise in order to find a workable way to transform local government from two tiers to one. The people don’t like to see their politicians bickering. Personally, I’ve even gone so far as to recommend they employ a facilitator experienced in conflict resolution.

Whatever the original intentions, now county, who are desperate for financial savings, continue to insist on one solution, and the leaders of city and the districts are wedded to another solution. The stand-off and the reputation smearing name calling simply must stop. We need our council leaders to work together to find a solution. I ask for council to support this motion that urges all our leaders to come together to work for a solution for the people of Oxfordshire.

Vale commits to multiple unitary authorities 

At the Vale council meeting on 11 May members debated a motion tabled by the leader of the council, Matthew Barber. 

This Council supports the proposal by district council leaders for the abolition of existing councils and the creation of new local unitary councils for Oxfordshire. 

Furthermore this Council welcomes the appointment of Pricewaterhouse Coopers to examine all options ahead of a public consultation this summer.

Lib Dems reminded council that we just last month spent £50,000 to commission a study that’s still under way. The consultants haven’t produced their report yet. 

In debate, Lib Dems pointed out that the wording in this motion,  “new unitary councils” eliminates from consideration a single unitary authority. That’s one of the options in the ongoing study, but this motion calls for council to only support the district leaders’ dream of multiple authorities. Of course a single unitary authority is the option preferred by our county council colleagues. 

Tory debaters all missed this key point. One speaker, Cllr Howell, focused on how we need to take a leadership position. No one was saying we shouldn’t do that. We were saying this is a premature commitment that should be managed according to the plan we already have in place, and not rushed in ahead of any evidence or public consultation. 

Another Tory speaker, Cllr Sandy Lovatt, admitted he didn’t “understand what the opposition was on about.” He stated it was only a motion supporting the consultants selection and summer consultation. Cllr Lovatt needs to read more carefully and pay closer attention. He missed the point that Cllr Barber was eliminating Oxfordhire County Council’s preferred option. Cllr Lovatt is a 3-hatter, so he is a town and county councillor in addition to a Vale councillor. In short, Cllr Lovatt voted with the several district council leaders, and against his own county council’s preferred approach to a unitary authority. How awkward.  (Their other member who is also a County councillor, Cllr Yvonne Constance, was absent from the Vale council meeting. Handily.)

Nutshell: the Tories all voted for this motion, which eliminates one of the four options currently being studied, before there’s been any evidence published and without listening to the public’s views. 

All Tories voted for the motion. All of your Lib Dem councillors voted against this poor decision.

Unitary authorities proposed by District Councils

In the past couple of weeks or so, the question of whether local government in Oxfordshire should be structured as one or more unitary authorities has raised its head with a vengeance. In 2014, County commissioned a financial study of the ramifications of forming one or more unitary authorities in Oxfordshire. On County Budget day 16 Feb 2016, county council agreed to pursue this avenue as a way to reduce costs enough to keep services going in the face of severe and continuing Government cuts.

A mere eyeblink later, the various district councils’ came forward with their own ideas, still uncosted and lacking any detail of service delivery. The district councils propose several unitary authorities across the county, plus a sort of overarching combined committee to handle issues that cross the boundaries, such as highways and tansport. See the Oxford Mail’s report here: http://bit.ly/1oSjRT0 (The comments are worth a read too.)

Here’s our (Vale Lib Dems) position:

“The Vale of White Horse District Council Liberal Democrats support the idea of unitary authorities in principle. Once there is verified information about the economic and service delivery costs and benefits of all options being considered by the Council, we will listen to the public before we determine our position on any specific proposals.”

Will you let me know what you think?