The Oxford Times last week had three pages covering the One Oxfordshire debate.
Oxfordshire currently has six councils – one county council, four district councils and one city council as well as our local town and parish councils.
The proposal is for all six councils to be abolished and be replaced by just ONE new council for the whole of Oxfordshire.
Is this the same as ‘devolution’?
Apparently not, ‘devolution’ is entirely different.
Agreeing a devolution deal with government is likely to mean creating a directly elected mayor for Oxfordshire and another layer of local government called a ‘combined authority’ to whom government hands over funding and powers to support economic growth. This can include infrastructure investment and joining up with other public services such as the NHS.
The county, district and city councils are working together on a devolution plan, but this is separate from any reorganisation.
Government officials have said clearly that they will consider devolution and unitary proposals separately.
The One Oxfordshire reorganisation is about savings and service improvements.
County Councillors propose one new unitary council with Local Area Boards which take decisions about things like planning, parking and street cleaning. Other things like public health, housing, community services and transport would be handled centrally.
One Council would align housing, jobs and infrastructure planning across the county and set the statutory framework for locating new housing, very much like the Strategic Housing Market Assessment did in 2014.
I’m not convinced that the County has a track record for getting things right and for having our best interests at heart.
I talked last week about the forgotten people of Wantage and Grove.
Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group don’t seem to care that we are more than 60 minutes driving time from the JR or that our Health Centre needs expanding.
The County doesn’t seem to be working well with the NHS at the moment so how would this change? The County Council has much higher priorities for transport infrastructure than roads and cycleways in this small corner of the County. Funding for the new schools we need to support the growth in housing is very slow in coming.
But then the District Council doesn’t seem to be developing our proposed new Leisure Centre with any sense of urgency.
Would One Oxfordshire mean that we get forgotten even more that we do at the moment? I need convincing that One Oxfordshire is a good idea.