PROPOSALS to abolish Oxfordshire County Council and create four new unitary councils have "gaping holes" in them, its leader warns today.

In an interview with the Oxford Mail, Ian Hudspeth also claimed the move could threaten a multi-billion pound devolution deal still to be struck with the Government.

The council chief was placed on the back foot last week when his district and city counterparts made a surprise bid to dismantle the county council and redistribute its powers, including social care, education, the fire service, libraries, transport, trading standards and waste management.

They called for four new unitary authorities to be created from the merged areas of Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire, West Oxfordshire and the Cotswold District, Cherwell and South Northamptonshire and Oxford City.

These would take over all local services, handing social care to the National Health Service, with a 'combined authority' managing transport and major roads.

And in a further blow to the county council, they also won backing from the county's six MPs – including Prime Minister David Cameron.

But launching a counter-offensive, Mr Hudspeth called for a wider debate to consider a single, unitary council for Oxfordshire that would slash bureaucracy and create a simpler system.

He has been joined by county council Labour group leader Liz Brighouse, Liberal Democrat group leader Richard Webber and Green group leader David Williams.

Writing together in today's[mar3] Oxford Mail, they warn: "Such an important decision cannot be done on the basis of a political deal".

Mr Hudspeth told the paper: "I have always been open to discussion about unitary councils, so – given it is responsible for 80 per cent of local government spending in Oxfordshire – it is very frustrating and disappointing the county council was not consulted on these proposals.

"What the district councils have come up with is a preconceived idea that just replaces one two-tier system with another two-tier system.

"There are gaping holes in what has been put forward and no detail on how they might continue to provide the services we manage, or whether they would continue to be funded locally or nationally.

"I want a full, frank and open discussion with everyone. Ultimately, what residents want is the best form of local government."

The change was proposed by the district councils after they submitted a devolution bid to the Government with the county council in February.

It calls for £1.4bn of infrastructure funding in Oxfordshire over 15 years and proposes creating a single health and social care system for the county, with a pooled budget.

But ministers are understood to have told council chiefs a deal was unlikely unless they signed up to having either an elected mayor or a simpler local government structure.

The district and city councils have rejected a mayor, as well as a single unitary council.

Mr Hudspeth warned the split could "jeopardise the devolution deal", adding: "People would never forgive us if we dismiss the possibility of extra funding because we won't discuss different forms of governance."