SO, to the surprise of not many people, an independent study into the Bucks system of local government – which comprises county, district and town councils – has concluded that a merger of our authorities into a single body could save a bit of cash (see page 4). That’s a hefty £20.7million a year to be precise. The report suggested a raft of savings – cutting senior managers, reducing duplicated roles, losing unnecessary buildings, to name a few.

It would also mean losing a number of councillors. Interestingly enough – and perhaps already seeing the writing on the wall – the four district council leaders released their response jointly, in a single, unified voice. Ironically, however, they did not seem too eager to grasp the benefits outlined by the report.

Contrastingly, Buckinghamshire County Council leader Martin Tett welcomed the findings, admitting certain aspects of the current three-tiered system are crazy, noting there would be benefits to both communities and the business-world if things were done differently.

The county is facing tougher budget decisions year in, year out, and just a few months ago was stung by a damning report into the quality of its children’s services. There is little doubt that tight budgets have played a part in hampering those services, and many others. I bet a spare £20.7 million sounds pretty good to Cllr Tett just now. And let’s not get started about the cost of fixing potholes properly...

For years the BFP has called for an end to the current three-tiered system. As well as wasteful, with duplicated roles left, right and centre, it is unwieldy and confusing. With different authorities covering different services it’s no wonder many don’t have a clue who they should be contacting about potholes/ waste collections/streetlights/ any number of other issues. And the parish and town council meetings we regularly report on here vary from effective to absurd.

While we don’t doubt that many councillors have the best of intentions – and many do a fine job in representing their residents – sometimes there is the distinct whiff of The Vicar of Dibley about the way parish councils function.

I remember one I had to cover some years ago in particular. In fact, I would love to scrub it from my memory, it was so awful. For reasons I was never clear on, several councillors clearly despised each other and their contempt was palpable throughout. I sat there uncomfortably taking notes as they tersely grunted at each other, so blinded by abject hatred that they achieved virtually nothing. Never mind Dibley – it was like a trip to Walford after a particularly brutal EastEnders Christmas special.

Such situations are pointless for everyone, and there is no doubt that at a parish level, petty squabbling and endlessly meandering, yet often insignificant, discussions, can make an unprofessional mockery of local government.

Some fear that a unitary authority would result in disengagement with the residents that the council should be representing. A valid concern – but hopefully one that could be counted by residents making sure the right councillors were elected in the first place. We have a range of representatives – some are clearly fired up and passionate about improving the lives of people in the area, others not so much. Let’s just make sure we vote the right ones in.

Of course, this isn’t a move that should be taken lightly – there would be a human cost to these savings, in the form of redundancies. Our councils are major employers and were they to merge to one there it would be bad news for many of their workers.

But the services our councils provide to their residents – many of whom are vulnerable and in considerable need – must come first, and we hope this new report serves to give the debate all the momentum it really deserves.