by Carol Linton on 4 November, 2018
At last we have a decision.
The majority of residents, the 5 existing councils and other stakeholders agree that a unitary arrangement was required in Buckinghamshire (excluding Milton Keynes which is already unitary). The debate was whether to have one or two councils. On 1 November 2018, the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government announced a single unitary authority for Buckinghamshire.
The county council has been reorganising for a single unitary for years, working with the police, ambulance, CCG, NHS Trust and getting endorsement from the Independent Chair of the Adult Safeguarding Board and the Independent Commissioner into the failing Children’s Services to align with county boundaries. The majority of residents and the 4 District councils opposed the decision on the grounds that a single unitary is too big, and that decision making in Aylesbury has been too remote for the south of the county..
The single unitary proposal is for 2 members for each of the 49 divisions. The minister of state mentions 3 members, giving a huge 147 member council, much larger other unitary councils. Bucks will be the second largest unitary in the country after Cornwall, and even with 2 member districts would have fewer electors per member than average across unitary authorities. Bucks might need a new council chamber to enable meetings.
Wycombe town will require a town council to be setup to represent local residents.
The proposal is for 5 local area planning committees made up of local unitary councillors. Parish councillors can attend and submit comments, but not sit on the committee.
There will be 19 Community boards made up of unitary councillors, parish councillors and ‘other stakeholders’ with an annual budget of about £100,000. Only the unitary councillors will have a say on formal decisions. They will be coterminous with parish boundaries. It seems likely that they will cover areas similar to the existing Local Area Forums (of which there are at least 17).
With the same boundaries, there are 19 Community Hubs where the public can meet staff face to face. The services available at each hub will vary depending on agreements with the parish councils and the other service providers.
The devolution of services (such as grass cutting, maintenance of pavements, parking) to parishes is a separate, current issue which the parish clerks and councillors need to negotiate carefully. Parishes are not constrained in increasing the local council precept, but residents could react to large increases. (Unitary councils are constrained on increase in council tax rises by government rules and penalties.)
This decision needs parliamentary approval, and the 4 District councils may still argue for their preferred 2 council solution. The number of councillors is an outstanding question. Parliament still has to agree that the District councillors stay in post for an extra year until 2020. There has been no mention of parish councils, who may balk at the cost of separate elections in 2019.Leave a comment