Could five become two?

District councillors across Buckinghamshire will vote on Monday 16 January whether to submit the business case for two new councils for Buckinghamshire to Government.

The proposal is to abolish all five county and district authorities and replace them with two new unitary councils, one in the north alongside the existing unitary of Milton Keynes and one in the south to cover the area of the three southern district councils, saving tax payers almost £58million over a five year period. Under the new proposals, each unitary council would be responsible for the delivery of all council services.

Late last year, the district councils engaged with 146 key stakeholder organisations across Bucks. 41 per cent favoured a two-unitary model, 32 per cent favoured a three-unitary model while only 27 per cent said they would prefer a single unitary authority (as proposed by Bucks County Council). This information has been used to help form a proposal for innovative change that will not only improve the outcomes for the people of Bucks, but will also provide a solid foundation for service provision and future challenges.

Cllr Neil Blake, Leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council, said: "We need one direction with each council focused on a single, economic geography. The north and south of Bucks are very different economic areas. Two new unitaries would allow each council to pursue its own economic goals.

"Aylesbury Vale and Milton Keynes form part of the Cambridge and Oxford Corridor, an area identified for national growth. By contrast, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe are part of the Thames Valley and West of London economy. National infrastructure investments such as Crossrail and the expansion of Heathrow in the south, and East West Rail between Cambridge and Oxford – along with the potential Expressway, will further intensify this difference."

Cllr Isobel Darby, Leader of Chiltern District Council, said: "Two new unitary councils means arrangements are even more local. Our proposal creates a new opportunity for more local involvement in decision making and true accountability.

"There is a need for ward councillors to reclaim their community leadership role as the accepted and mandated voice of people. Councils supported by local councillors can engage with local communities encouraging them to reduce the demand on services and to step into the breach left by the withdrawal of publicly provided services."

Cllr Ralph Bagge, Leader of South Bucks District Council, said: "There is no disagreement that that delivery of services will be aided by the demise of the two-tier system. Our proposal gives us the opportunity to write a new chapter.

"Design and delivery of local services will be sensitive to the particular need of different communities. This must take place in a co-ordinated and integrated way with partners."

Cllr Katrina Wood, Leader of Wycombe District Council, said: "Already the district councils have found ways to earn additional revenue, reduce costs and work closely together to be more effective. With a further focus on economic growth emulating Milton Keynes, we have the potential to significantly improve productivity.

"For our residents our vision is to encourage independence and deliver the right amount of help when needed. Low level and early intervention will enable people to live in their homes longer, with communities and the voluntary sector playing a vital role. Because of the high and rising costs of care, a small increase in the number of those able to remain in their homes with support would have an impact on budget spend."

The four district council leaders are meeting with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, on Thursday 19 January to discuss the districts’ proposal. He has already stated that he will make a decision early this year. If a proposal is adopted, it is unlikely that changes would be implemented until spring 2019.

Read our proposal for modernising local government in Bucks