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Unitary status stays an option for future
THE new leader of Oxfordshire County Council has refused to rule out the idea that Oxford city could be self-governing in the future.
The county’s two-tier system of local government sees the county council responsible for issues across Oxfordshire such as education, social care and waste disposal.
There are five district councils – including Oxford City Council – that look after issues including planning, rubbish collection and parks.
But many see unitary councils, where one council has all the responsibilities in a particular area, as a cheaper alternative.
Critics say they are expensive to set up, destabilising and would never pay back the set-up costs.
Mr Hudspeth, who took up his role in May, said: “Unitary status is not something which is on the cards at the moment, but if future Governments come back and say they will accept it, we will have to look at all the options.”
But he added: “The Government has made it clear there will be no re-organisation of local authorities.
“I believe the way forward is more sharing of officers and location, and I’m keen to talk to my district and city council colleagues as well as the NHS and other organisations to see where we can save money.”
Pro-unitary Oxford City Council leader Bob Price welcomed his counterpart’s position, but also accepted unitary authorities in Oxfordshire were a long way down the road.
Oxford City Council launched a bid for unitary status in 2006.
But the idea, which supporters said would save more than £7.2m a year, was thrown out by Government in 2007 on the grounds it would be too costly and fail to deliver services.
Mr Price, a Labour councillor, said: “I think the ideal solution would be unitary authorities across the whole country, like they have in Scotland, but in the interim period I think the whole partnership structure that’s been built up since local strategic partnerships were introduced by the Labour Government in 2001 is the way to go.
“We do have this series of groups and links which provide a pretty robust and strong relationship and they have developed over the years successfully.”
Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman Sian Williams said: “One of the first acts passed by Parliament under the coalition Government was stopping the last administration’s unitary restructuring. This simply isn’t on the cards.
“The Government has however given councils new freedoms and powers to improve the way they deliver services.”
In 2006, Mr Mitchell claimed a unitary authority covering Oxford city would never pay back the set-up costs.
South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils currently share senior management and services, as do West Oxfordshire and Cotswold councils, and Cherwell and South Northants councils.