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Column 2nd September 2020

New plans for a unitary Oxfordshire

In July, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that a recovery and devolution paper will be published later this year but this hasn’t been produced yet.

At a Vale of White Horse District Council meeting (also in July), Councillor Nathan Boyd and Councillor Matthew Barber moved a motion in relation to local government reorganisation.

The agreed resolution included “…Council calls on the Leader to continue working with other Oxfordshire Council Leaders and OxLEP and start a conversation with residents and other stakeholders to consider possible options for a Unitary Authority or unitary authorities for Oxfordshire should the government bring forward the expected white paper on Recovery and Devolution later this year or the financial position of one or more council make this essential.. …”

Then a report commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council was published last week entitled ‘Local Government Reform in Oxfordshire’.

The report sets out a high level appraisal of three options for local government reform in Oxfordshire. The options considered were:

1. Optimising the existing two-tier collaboration between the County and District Councils.

2. Establishing a new single unitary authority

3. Establishing two new unitary authorities, based on a 50/50 split of the population to meet Government criteria around size.

Oxford City Council have already commented on the report and Councillor Susan Brown, leader of the Council said:
“We are in the midst of a pandemic which has caused a national economic crisis. Now is not the time for major restructuring of local government.

“This report looks rushed and flawed, before the Government has set out its policy on this.

“The report does not consider all options, nor, crucially does it even acknowledge the current context of COVID-19 in terms of health arrangements, community support and economic recovery.

“Why rush this out now? We are happy to be involved in discussion about the future local government arrangements in Oxfordshire, but based on evidence and considering the needs of our communities and businesses, and with their engagement.”

West Oxfordshire Council have also suggested that the report has been commissioned by two parties whose interests are aligned but unrepresentative of the rest of the councils. 

They say that the figures contained within it are misleading and inaccurate and that its approach ignores both the needs of Oxfordshire’s residents and the locality specific benefits delivered by the current councils.

We wonder what the Vale Council thinks about developments since their meeting.


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