New Buckinghamshire-wide council would put power in local residents' hands and save £18m a year

  |  Published: Sep 14th 2016
Martin Tett
Martin Tett

Abolishing Bucks’ five county and district councils and replacing them with one single authority would provide better services and enhance local decision-making, while saving tax payers more than £18m a year.

That is according to a blueprint for the new ‘Buckinghamshire Council’ released today (Wednesday) by the County Council.

Subject to approval by Cabinet and Full Council, the business case will be submitted to government this autumn. If given the green light, the old councils could be abolished and the new Buckinghamshire Council created by 2019.

Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, Martin Tett, said: “The bureaucratic way local government is currently set up in Buckinghamshire is no longer fit for purpose or affordable.

"A new council would be a fresh start for Buckinghamshire, designed from the bottom up to provide better, more locally-focussed services.

"I’m particularly proud of our proposals to bring the council closer to local communities. This includes giving residents a much larger role in deciding the services they want where they live and creating 19 Community Hubs throughout Bucks where people can access a wide range of public services on their doorsteps.

"There just isn’t the money to pay for all the services residents want and if we don’t act now things will only get worse - in 2010 Bucks’ county and district councils received £88m in government funding, but by 2020 this will be zero.

“We now have the opportunity to save tens of millions of pounds which could be invested in protecting and improving frontline services."

For more information log on to www.futurebucks.co.uk
To see the cabinet documents click here https://democracy.buckscc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=124&MId=9352&Ver=4

Business case highlights

More Local
The new Buckinghamshire Council would bring access to local services, accountability and decision-making direct to people’s doorsteps.
The business case includes plans for:

Community Boards
Nineteen Community Boards would serve Buckinghamshire’s towns and villages, enabling local councillors to take decisions on issues such as funding for community groups and local roads maintenance. They would meet regularly in each area and the public would be encouraged to attend alongside town and parish councils, police, fire, and health organisations.

Community Hubs
Community Hubs in each of the 19 Community Board areas would provide a base for a number of public services, including the new Buckinghamshire Council. It means residents, particularly vulnerable people who might be unable to travel very far, would be able to access a wide range of services from a place that is local to them – all under one roof.

Parish/ Town Delivery Partnership
Parish and Town Councils would have the opportunity to take on more services and community assets if they choose to, from public toilets and parks to support for the isolated and footpath repairs.

Clearer accountability
The number of councillors sitting on ‘principal’ authorities in Bucks would reduce from 238 to 98, saving £1.2m and delivering clearer local accountability.

Better Value

One council instead of five would save tax payers £18.2m a year by reducing the duplication which currently exists under such a bureaucratic system and delivering services much more efficiently and effectively.

For example, around £4m would be saved by combining the back-office functions of the five councils, such as HR and finance. £3.6m would be saved by running services more efficiently on a larger scale, with greater economies of scale. £3m would be saved by cutting the numbers of senior managers which previously existed across the five councils.

The money saved equates to more than £84 per household per year.

These savings are based on conservative estimates – in reality it is anticipated that actual savings will be significantly higher.

The new Buckinghamshire Council could also earn £48m from selling off council buildings which are no longer required. This money could be invested in improving infrastructure like roads and schools.

The one-off cost of establishing the new council would be £16.2m. It would take just over two years for the new council to pay for itself (savings would build up to £18.2m per annum by Year Three, not from day one).

Overall savings (once the cost of change is taken into account) for the first five years of a new council would be £45m.

Council tax
Under one Buckinghamshire Council, council tax would be harmonised, so for example a Band D rate payer in Buckingham will pay the same as a Band D rate payer in Chesham. It would result in a reduction in council tax for the majority of Buckinghamshire’s residents. The level has been brought in line with the rate Wycombe District rate payers are expected to pay by 2019, which is the lowest of all the districts in Bucks.

Better quality services
Services which complement one another but are currently divided between the districts and county can also be brought together. This will result in better services for residents.

For example:
• Services which aim to help people at risk of addiction, obesity or ill health (currently County) can be brought together with alcohol licensing, housing, leisure centres and environmental health (currently District).
• The Districts’ bin collection and street cleaning roles can be merged with the County’s waste disposal services, such as its household waste and recycling centres, landfill sites and energy-from-waste plant, which will enhance recycling rates and efficiencies.
• There would be one council responsible for planning for new homes (District) and infrastructure such as schools, broadband and roads (County), creating a much more coherent approach to housing growth throughout Buckinghamshire which should result in more sustainable development.
• Trading Standards (County) and Environmental Health (District) can be brought together, creating a one-stop shop for key consumer protection services.
• There would be an improved service for people with disabilities through the joining up of assessments and grants (County) with benefits, housing and planning applications (District).
• If one council had responsibility for both fostering (County) and housing stock (District), there would be the potential to put foster parents in a larger home to enable more placements and prevent young people ending up in care homes or being sent to foster carers outside of Buckinghamshire.

Simpler
There is currently widespread confusion about which council is responsible for which service. For example, nearly eight out of ten residents wrongly believe the County Council is responsible for rubbish collection, when in fact this is a district responsibility.

The new Buckinghamshire Council would be a one-stop shop for residents – one website and one telephone number to access all council services in the county, from benefits and planning applications to roads maintenance and social services

Bucks-wide organisations already in existence
Many other local public services and charities are already set up on a Buckinghamshire-wide scale and would find it simpler and cheaper to work with just one council based on the same geography. These include health organisations such as the federated Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) and Healthwatch Bucks; business and infrastructure groups including Buckinghamshire Business First, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership and Buckinghamshire Advantage; and voluntary sector bodies such Community Impact Bucks and Heart of Bucks. Meanwhile, Amersham & Wycombe College and Aylesbury College have recently agreed to merge to create a further education college based on Buckinghamshire’s geography.

One voice
A single county-wide unitary council would speak with one voice for Buckinghamshire, strengthening our influence on the regional and national stage.

 

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