Potential move to Gloucestershire unitary authority begins
COUNCILLORS have taken the first step on a long road which could see district and borough councils scrapped and replaced by a unitary authority.
Gloucestershire County Council has agreed to set up a working group to investigate the “merits and challenges” associated with making the move to a one tier local government system.
At the moment Gloucestershire works on a two tier system with services split between Shire Hall and borough councils like Cheltenham and Tewkesbury.
But supporters of the unitary way of working say switching to a “big monster” council would not only save bucket loads of cash but also improve democracy.
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The working group’s job will be to talk to “key stakeholders”, including existing borough and district councils, about how they feel about unitary authorities.
It will also price up the cost of making the change and project the potential savings.
The motion to create the working group, debated at Shire Hall today, was made by Labour Councillor Steve Lydon (Lab, Dursley) who praised the council’s decision to back “starting the discussion” as “seeing common sense”.
Speaking at the meeting he said: "There are some key issues that we have to face up to.
"There are up to 80 councils in England that are on the verge of financial collapse.
"There is also great confusion with the public in terms of who is responsible for what service and I think we need to address that.
"So many people are totally disinterested in politics that I think we need to take a step back and think about what delivers democracy in the best way in Gloucestershire.
"Now is the time to look at this."
The issue of resistance from borough and district councils was brought up at the meeting with Mr Lydon summing up the feeling by stating “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”.
Meanwhile, Councillor Colin Hay (LD, All Saints and Oakley), leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said the discussions are likely to be "divisive".
He added his belief that looking at making the change could "detract" from the on-going work councils are doing to save cash in the face of government cuts.
Councillor Mark Hawthorne (C, Quedgeley), leader of the council, said: “We all know that we face difficult decisions with this authority having to find £75 million plus of savings going forward.
"This is a debate worth having and we need to look at all the facts but we also need to be aware that this is not a magic solution to all of our problems."