County council leader says it's time for debate about having just one council for Oxfordshire (From Herald Series)
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County council leader says it's time for debate about having just one council for Oxfordshire
9:00am Wednesday 2nd July 2014 in News
THE leader of Oxfordshire County Council has called for a debate on establishing a single council to run Oxfordshire.
Speaking at full council yesterday, Ian Hudspeth said the county could benefit from being governed by a unitary authority.
At the moment some services are run by the county council and others by one of the five district councils.
Oxford has made a previous attempt to become a unitary authority in 2003 and earlier this year city council leader Bob Price said the Adonis Report produced by Lord Adonis for the Labour Party would bring about local government reorganisation after next year’s general election – if the party wins.
But Mr Hudspeth has disputed Mr Price’s claims Oxford should run itself and said it would make more sense for Oxfordshire to become a completely self-governing entity.
He said: “Rather than the fiddling around with boundaries, I understand Lord Adonis is suggesting something similar to Lord Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned report that local government should be on viable economic areas similar to the local enterprise partnerships.
“In Oxfordshire’s case this would be co-terminus with the county’s boundaries and also those of the clinical commissioning group.
“If there were to be a reorganisation of local government then we have to remember this county council delivers 75 per cent of local government services within Oxfordshire.
“That means we have one social services department, one highways department, one library service, one children’s service, one trading standards service, one fire service, one registration service – the list goes on.
“If we were to have one unitary authority then we would only require one of each department.
“I’m sure if I knocked on the doors of the residents of Oxfordshire and told them I had a plan to get rid of five chief executive officers and over 200 councillors, that would save them around £2m every year along with other savings that could be better used to protect and provide the services they value, they would tell me to get on with the job.
“Perhaps what we need to do is establish all the costs then have a debate.”
But Mr Hudspeth said the government is not approving local government reorganisations in this Parliament, so no action can be taken before the General Election next year.
Oxfordshire’s current political set-up dates back to 1972, when the so-called “two-tier” system was established. Before then, Oxford and Oxfordshire ran themselves independently of each other.
Under the two-tier system, the county’s five district councils are responsible for planning, licensing, housing and waste collection while the county council is responsible for transport, children’s services, education and social care.
In 2003, Oxford City Council submitted an unsuccessful bid to the Government to be granted unitary status.
Mr Price said: “The current Government is not interested in local government re-organisation; it is not on the agenda at the moment.
“It would be very odd to go down the track of a county unitary when the districts themselves are operating outside the county.
“And certainly speaking from a city point of view, we are completely different to the rest of the county and we feel it would have a negative impact on the city.
“There certainly is a political issue, but the city as a community would lose out dramatically.”
PROTESTERS gathered outside County Hall yesterday to press the case for stopping investment in fossil fuels for ethical reasons.
The group was asking for Oxfordshire County Council to divest its financial input into fossil fuel companies.
According to information released under the Freedom of Information Act, the Oxfordshire Pension Fund – which is administered by the county council and is worth £1.6 billion – invests £27.9m in fossil fuel companies including £15m in Royal Dutch Shell, £2.2m in BP and £1.7m in PetroChina. Demonstrator Al Chisholm, of East Oxford, said: “We are at a point where systemic change is needed to tackle this issue. This is a way of telling the county council that it needs to change its business model and be part of the green energy revolution.”
Green county councillor David Williams said: “There is no doubt whatsoever in the scientific community that unless we do something about carbon emissions society is going to suffer dreadfully in the next 50 years.”
The issue was also debated at full council yesterday, but a motion calling on the council to stop its investments was defeated.
County councillor Stewart Lilly, chairman of the council’s pension fund committee, said: “We cannot impose our own social, environmental and ethical views when making decisions on behalf of the pension fund.”
He said the fund has a legal duty to invest in the best financial interest of pension fund employers and beneficiaries.
TRAMS or even a monorail could be used to transport people between Witney and Oxford, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council has said.
Ian Hudpseth spoke as he prepares to visit Witney next week for a public meeting on his Connecting Oxfordshire vision.
The Conservative councillor said he hopes to form a consensus about the best way to tackle the problem of the A40.
He said: “The A40 has been very much in the spotlight recently and there is an ongoing and very healthy debate about what might be done to improve it over and above what is already planned.
“Away from the subject of the A40 I have been delighted to see people thinking out of the box and talking about trams, monorails or railway links between Witney and Oxford.
“With so much development planned in West Oxfordshire, particularly around Carterton, we’ve got to start looking at the period beyond 2020 and being imaginative about what transport network solutions there may be.
“I certainly want to see the debate continue about whether a tram or monorail or railway link between Oxford and West Oxfordshire would be popular.
“I know that there is still to this day a lot of sadness about the closure of the Oxford to Witney railway in the 1960s. How can we rejuvenate that public transport link and what variety of transport system would be most viable and popular?”
According to a report commissioned by Oxfordshire’s councils, West Oxfordshire needs 13,200 extra homes by 2031 while 80,000 jobs are expected to come to the county by that year.
And Mr Hudspeth said he is interested in hearing how transport problems across West Oxfordshire can be tackled, not just the issue of the A40.
Opened in 1861, the railway line between Witney and Oxford was closed to passenger traffic in 1962 as part of the Beeching cuts.
A campaign group called Witney Oxford Transport has recently been set up to encourage the council to carry out a feasibility study into reopening the line.
Mr Hudspeth will be holding a public meeting on his plans at Henry Box School on Monday at 7.30pm.
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