Councils set to ponder case for unitary local authority

By Ian Dipple Friday 21 February 2014 Updated: 21/02 09:49

A MAJOR shake-up of local government could see Stratford District Council abolished and the creation of one Warwickshire-wide authority.

Warwickshire County Council is set to debate the issue at a meeting on Tuesday (February 25) in the wake of the £92million of funding cuts it has to make over the next four years.

The move could save taxpayers £50million a year, lower the average Band D council tax bill by £30 a year, cut the number of councillors across the county from 250 to less than 100 and see more money ploughed into frontline services rather than spent on administration.

Currently residents in Studley and Alcester have services such as bin collections, housing and leisure operated by Stratford District Council and those such as schools and road repairs operated by Warwickshire County Council.

Together with district councils in Warwick, Nuneaton, Bedworth and North Warwickshire they provide services to 545,000 residents, have 272 councillors and spend in the region of £1billion. They also have their own management team and workforce of civil servants.

But the idea being put forward would mean all services would be run by a single unitary authority for Warwickshire, simplifying the current system which can be confusing for residents.

Although the changes will come too late to prevent the scale of cuts over the next four years, councillors argue it will protect services in the future when funding is reduced further from 2018 onwards.

Coun Clive Rickhards, who represents Studley on the county council, said he could see problems with the system, particularly the risk people in some areas would feel they were no longer represented properly, but added on balance it was a good idea.

"It's been done elsewhere in Shropshire and after some teething problems it seems to be working," he said.

"I can see the problems but I tend to be in favour of unitary authorities as it removes the confusion for residents about which council does what."

Alcester county councillor Mike Gittus said potentially re-organisation represented an opportunity for town and parish councils to deliver more services locally.

"The administration is an area where where there's an opportunity for economies. What we need to preserve is the actual service provision to the community."

Council leader Chris Saint said he expected the debate would air views and not lead to any immediate reform of local government.

"My mind is open to persuasion, but the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is quite clear that change can only happen if there is the will to make it happen."

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