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MP supports study into unitary authority
MP DOMINIC Grieve says he is fully behind an influential business group’s study into the possible benefits of abolishing layers of local government to form unitary authorities.
Speaking at the Marlow Business Breakfast last week, Mr Grieve voiced his support for the sharing of services in the county.
It comes after business interest group Bucks Business First launched a crowdfunding initiative to look into the pros and cons of forming unitary authorities to replace the current three-tier system of local government.
Chairman Alex Pratt announced the group’s plans for an “evidence-based” study into the options surrounding any possible mergers.
Mr Grieve said: “I was interested about Alex’s comments on local government re-organisation. On a personal basis, I entirely agree about this.
“There are massive duplications within local government, but we are already seeing some of that being addressed South Bucks District Council have effectively twinned up with Chiltern for its backroom functions and a single chief executive.
“I’m very much in favour of encouraging that sort of joint working to try to minimise cost. We have to do that if we are to maintain decent public services.”
The current 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.
Some speculate the move which some speculate could save as much as £25 million per year of public money.
Tim Graham, chairman of Marlow’s Chamber of Commerce, said he is in favour of a merger, believing it would remove one of the communities community’s “biggest headaches”.
And BBF, 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".
BBF is now looking to raise £25,000 to commission a study by Ernst and Young into the pros and cons of such a merger.
However, Mr Pratt insisted he is “not wedded to any one outcome” and simply feels that someone must step in to establish the facts.
He said: “Normally what happens to change things is something disruptive comes along and in this case it is the business community just providing a bhit of energy to allow everybodyto decide if now is the time to look at it rather than ignore it.
“WDC set up a group to look at it but i think everybody would benfit from a good look at the evidence, what would work, what wouldn’t, what the impact would be.How can you come to a conclusion without the evidence?
“We’d like to test the waters to see the extent people would like to see change, and not leave it to smoke-filled rooms full of councillors.”
A unitary structure could see the number of councillors in the county plummet from 248 to somewhere between 90 and 120, with further savings at backroom and management level.
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.
BBF hopes to complete the study by the end of the summer.
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