Unitary Council decision made – but what’s that all about?

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unitary decision

Yesterday the Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced a new structure for local council in Buckinghamshire, following months of discussions – and campaigning from our various local councils, who had differing views of what structure would be best. 

The Secretary of State announced: “… that I have decided to implement, subject to Parliamentary approval, the locally-led proposal to replace the existing five councils across Buckinghamshire – the two tier structure of Buckinghamshire County Council and the district councils of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe – by one new single unitary district council, and that I have decided not to implement the proposal for two new unitary councils.”

Current Situation

Until now, Buckinghamshire (excluding Milton Keynes) has had a two-tier council system:

  • Bucks County Council (BCC) is responsible for services including transport, social care, education, and waste disposal
  • Four district councils are responsible for other services, such as planning, benefits, environmental health and bin collection. Marlow is within the Wycombe District Council (WDC) area.

The issue

The thinking was that a unitary council should instead carry out all services in a given area – to save money, and just make things simpler. The question was – how many Unitary councils should cover Bucks – one or two? The Government had announced it was ‘minded-to’ implement a single new unitary council. However, before making a final decision a consultation was put in place to seek people’s views.

The disagreement between existing Councils

  1. Buckinghamshire County Council proposed having one, new county-wide unitary council. A key part of this argument was increased cost saving. This is the model that will now be adopted. 
  2. The District Councils proposed two unitary councils, created by splitting Buckinghamshire into North and South. The key argument here was around having decision making more locally concentrated, and recognising that North and South Bucks are quite different areas in many ways.

Responses to the decision

Wycombe District Council (covers Marlow – one of the 4 existing District Councils)

“We are disappointed that the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, has announced today that he is supporting a new single unitary district council that will cover the whole of Buckinghamshire, excluding Milton Keynes.

The Secretary of State has previously stated there was a need to ensure broad consensus and we do not believe this has been achieved with the new single unitary district proposal.

All four district councils, as well as many key stakeholders, firmly believe that the two unitary authority approach, based on the two different economic geographies in Buckinghamshire, is the best option for protecting, delivering and transforming the services needed both now and in the future. 

We will now be considering our position, seeking further advice and reviewing the options available to us.”

Bucks County Council

“The announcement by Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been hailed as a ‘truly historic day’ by County Council leader Martin Tett.

The new council, which will replace the county council and four districts, will be simpler, better value and more local to Buckinghamshire communities than the current two-tier system, ultimately moving to a more sustainable future for the county.

Services which complement one another but are currently divided between the district and county councils such as bin collections, waste disposal, planning and roads, would be brought together under the single unitary council, resulting in more efficient, joined-up services for residents.

Martin Tett added : ‘There has been robust debate over the last couple of years over how best to modernise Buckinghamshire’s out-dated two-tier system. Everyone has agreed that a change to a unitary form of governance is the only way forward. Now a decision has been made it is the time to put the past behind us and work together, to build the better future Buckinghamshire’s residents deserve.’ “

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