Speaking about Oxfordshire County Council’s proposal to create a single council for the whole of Oxfordshire, Cllr Bob Price Leader of Oxford City Council said: “This is the wrong proposal at the wrong time.
“Last month, all the Oxfordshire councils agreed that they would focus on a devolution proposal to central Government that would bring long term new budgets into Oxfordshire to deliver the things that the county most needs: better transport infrastructure, a joined up approach to housing, and investment in our training and skills for the modern workforce. The proposal involves a joint body including all the councils and an elected Mayor. Building on our current joint bodies, this would enable us to make progress on these issues quickly and efficiently.
“The creation of a single unitary council for the whole of Oxfordshire would be highly disruptive for local services and will take years to create. By contrast, a Combined Authority and Elected Mayor could be created very quickly, and that option has the support of our Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) as well. The savings of £20m a year that are claimed is very small against a total budget of over £821m for the new authority, and fails to take account of the high costs of the transition in redundancies and reorganisations. That’s just 2.4% savings a year which could be saved more easily by changing services within current structures.
“A unitary county council would mean:
“A threat to local communities through a remote planning process that could impose new homes on communities against the wishes of locally elected councillors and communities.
“A requirement to equalise council tax across the county, with big increases for many residents. The proposed complex model for Council Tax setting has not been allowed anywhere else in the country.
“A reduction in local democracy by placing all significant decision making powers in the hands of a single body and removing the easy access that there is at the moment to local councillors. Governance from County Hall over a population of 800,000 people by the end of the next decade will remove local accountability and will struggle to listen effectively to the concerns of local communities.
“For the people of Oxford, a unitary Council would be a disaster. Harmonisation of services across the county would rip up the City’s approach to key services like housing and homelessness, climate change, advice services, recycling and recreation and the arts. The needs of a multi-ethnic and socially mixed urban community+ are very different to the more rural parts of the county. The city is also a focus for the economic vitality of the county, the region and the UK as a whole and there is a delicate balance between its economic, social, cultural and academic sectors that needs careful management. These proposals fail to address these needs.
“The people of Oxford need control of their community so as to reflect their needs, not those of other parts of a very diverse county area.
“We would urge the County Council to work with all the Districts and the Local Enterprise Partnership towards the consensus that we have been building around the devolution bid, and the resources from government that it brings into Oxfordshire.”