A KEY business organisation in Bucks has launched a campaign to crowdfund research into the pros and cons of creating a unitary authority in the county – a move which some speculate could save as much as £25 million per year of public money.
Buckinghamshire Business First, which is dedicated to improving the conditions for businesses in the county, says if such savings may be possible then "doing nothing is not an option".
Currently our local government system comprises Buckinghamshire County Council, with four district councils (Wycombe, South Bucks, Chiltern and Aylesbury Vale) beneath it and also number of town and parish councils.
A unitary system would see county and district councils merge – although there are several possible ways such a move could take place.
But contributions are needed from businesses – or even interested individuals – to raise the £25,000 needed for the independent survey to go ahead.
Philippa Batting, managing director of BBF said: "This issue affects each and every one of us in Buckinghamshire and to facilitate a proper debate, we need the facts. This independent research will look at the positives and negatives of different unitary authority models and how well or not they have performed elsewhere. We will only be able to have an informed debate when businesses and residents have this information.
"This is not about our hard working councillors or the current staff in our local authorities, which are among the best in the country; this is about a sensible review of the current system which has been unchanged for over 40 years, a time when the Berlin Wall and Apartheid still existed and fifteen years before the birth of the internet."
She said BBF did not have any agenda beyond carrying out an objective study. A BBF members survey conducted last year revealed that around 75per cent of the respondents wanted the matter looked into.
Philippa added: "We don’t have a view on what the outcome will be, or on what a suitable solution will be.
"We want to join the debate from an informed position, hence the need to generate the research. "
BBF hopes to raise the £25,000 in the next four weeks, and that a study could be completed by the end of the summer.
Philippa added the new research would consider the transition costs of any change in government system – which are likely to be high in the short-term – and will also revisit other authorities which have taken the plunge to become unitaries, to see what pros and cons have emerged, along with the savings made.
Contributors will get a copy of the research findings, while those pledging £2,000 or more will be offered the chance to join BBF board discussions.
A unitary structure could see the number of councillors in the county plummet from 248 to somewhere between 90 and 120, while duplicated backroom jobs and even senior management positions could be cut as well. Recently, savings estimates vary from £5m to £25m per year.
A report in 2006 stated that rolling together the district and county councils into one could then have saved an estimated £35m a year. In 2007 the council took a vote on unitary council status but instead pursued a 'Pathfinder' shared services initiative which proved unsuccessful and was scrapped after a £1m investment.
The issue has been hotly debated for years, with some councillors calling for a unitary authority to be established while others say the costs to do so have been too prohibitive.
To contribute to the campaign and add your views go to www.make-a-donation.org/charity/buckinghamshire-business-first