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'Scrap our council system to save cash and stop future tax rises'
COUNCIL chiefs in Buckinghamshire must face up to a future of continued cuts and austerity by merging councils to save cash, an independent councillor says.
Cllr Peter Cooper has called for a radical restructure of how the county is governed, saying authorities will be unable to keep making cuts in their current form.
The Aylesbury Vale District Councillor has pleaded with his counterparts in the south to join forces and by doing so reduce the burden on the taxpayer.
In a letter to the BFP, he said councils in Bucks are “in the process of taking the bacon slicer to their budgets, but all are finding little meat left to cut from the bone” and called for Bucks to adopt a unitary system.
He wrote: “Buckinghamshire should urgently consider scrapping the district/county model. As tax payers, we are funding five councils. The overheads are crippling and by 2020 this arrangement will be unsustainable."
Eventually, he said, council tax would have to rise to raise funds for the councils, when no more cuts are possible.
He wrote: “Maintaining the status quo to preserve positions of influence can no longer be an option. “Buckinghamshire must face the reality of the future and re-engineer its local government structure to be fit for purpose.”
A report in 2006 stated that rolling together the five existing district councils and Buckinghamshire County Council into one could have saved an estimated £35m a year.
With AVDC forecast to see a 48 per cent reduction in Government funds from 2010 to 2015 and the likelihood of further drastic cuts up to 2020, the position is serious, Cllr Cooper said.
Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, said: "The Government has made it clear that any 'top down' reorganisation of local government is off the agenda for the lifetime of this parliament.
"The county council will continue to respect the separate roles and responsibilities of district and county councils and seek to work collaboratively with colleagues in Aylesbury Vale and the other district councils to deliver the best, most cost effective services for our residents."
BCC has saved £68 million over the last three years, and plans to save nearly £50 million more in the years ahead.
Cllr Alex Collingwood, Leader of Wycombe District Council, said: “The reason why we are not devoting our scarce resources to investigating a unitary council is simple; the set up costs to fund this initiative locally are quite simply unaffordable and all the set up costs for any new structure would have to paid for by local residents.”
The council does not want to be 'sidetracked' by reorganisation, but will work jointly with other councils where it makes sense for taxpayers, he said.
He cited the example of the joint waste contract with Chiltern District Council, which will save around £1.4m a year for seven years. WDC has also frozen council tax the past two years and is on track to achieve savings of £4m over four years, he added.
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