Alas poor Warwick: Who'd shed tiers in council reforms?

Warwick Castle Should there be a two-tier power system in Warwick?

Picture yourself in Warwick, famous for its self-proclaimed "finest medieval castle in Britain", its racecourse and its refuse collections.

Yes, refuse collections.

Questions about which local services are run by what local authorities are suddenly headline news. They are often answered with illustrations such as: "the districts collect the rubbish and the counties dispose of it".

And much else besides of course.

Start Quote

Local government should be just that: local”

End Quote Councillor Dennis Harvey

The upper-tier county councils deliver some high-cost, labour-intensive services such as education and social care while others, like housing and leisure services are the preserve of the lower-level district or borough authorities.

But how many of the electorate are aware of such niceties? If voters don't understand these arrangement what hope is there for genuine political accountability? And, not least, how can they make informed, value-for-money choices?

Warwick Racecourse Most of the district council runners and riders would like to see the status-quo maintained
'Open debate'

With unprecedented pressure on local authorities' budgets, Warwickshire County Council alone need to save £92m over the next four years. Its Conservative Leader, Izzi Seccombe, says public consultations have prompted her administration to consider whether too replace the present two-tier arrangement with a single, unitary, council which would take responsibility for all the local services.

According to Ms Seccombe this would save £17m a year, cutting council tax bills by £30 a year for an average band D property, and make local democracy more comprehensible. The number of councillors in the county would be reduced from 250 to fewer than 100 and remove the potential for conflicts of interest between the two levels of local government.

Ms Seccombe says; "The intention is to start an open and inclusive debate which will have at its core the interests of our citizens, and what makes sense to them, and the long term viability of local government in Warwickshire".

Warwickshire wouldn't be the first county to go unitary.

They already have in Shropshire and Herefordshire for many of the reasons set out by Cllr Seccombe and some councillors in Gloucestershire are also talking about following suit.

Refuse Who will be responsible for Warwick's rubbish?

Predictably, some of the strongest opposition to the idea comes from the lower-tier district councils which would be wound up.

In part this is party political: district councils have often been Labour's main powerbases in otherwise Conservative-dominated shire counties. Even in Tory Warwickshire, two of the five lower-tier districts are Labour-controlled.

Nuneaton and Bedworth's Labour leader Denis Harvey says going unitary would bring chaos: "Local government should be just that: local. Efficiency and high quality services are our main priority at the town hall. Although our name appears at the top of the council tax bill, we take only 13% of the total money you pay, and are always aware that it is your money we are spending."

The Labour council leader goes on to quote the Conservative Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in support of maintaining the status quo.

"I hope residents will be pleased to hear, as we were, that the Secretary of State has categorically ruled out any reorganisation of councils locally, along with the chaos this would inevitably bring, and condemned any use of taxpayers' money to push this idea any further," he said.

'Strongly opposed'

His party colleague, the leader in neighbouring North Warwickshire, Mick Stanley is "strongly opposed".

And local Conservative district and borough council leaders have come out against the idea as well.

In Warwick, Andrew Mobbs is "strongly opposed". Craig Humphreys, the leader in Rugby says there is "no appetite" for it. Leaving only Stratford-on-Avon's Conservative leader Chris Saint saying he is "open to persuasion".

But if the predominantly hostile attitude of district councils puts you in mind of the old adage about turkeys and Christmas, think again. If Izzi Seccombe's Warwickshire were indeed to go unitary, the upper-tier county council she leads would itself be wound up.

Herefordshire's unitary authority was established sixteen years ago when the former Hereford and Worcester County Council was dissolved. The leader of Herefordshire's ruling Conservative group Tony Johnson will be explaining how they have managed the transition to single-tier local services in this weekend's Sunday Politics programme.

I hope you will be able to join us at the slightly later time of 11.15 on BBC One on Sunday 30th March 2014.

Patrick Burns Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

West Midlands councils braced for funding cuts

As councils learn how much money they will have next year to spend on local services, Patrick Burns looks at the situation in the West Midlands.

Read full article


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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    So many statements in this article are plain wrong.
    So many spelling mistakes.
    BBC editorial standards slipping even further even further down the plughole.

    This article reads as though it was written by a ten year old, and not a particularly articulate ten year old either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Cont from post 11.

    There a two ways of solving this:

    1) Redraw boundaries so that all wards elect only one councillor.

    2) Require all parties to field the same number of candidates as councillors there are to be elected. If they're not able to do this, then their candidates should be required to stand as independents with no party logo next to their name on the ballot paper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    9. ciconia

    That problem exists all over the place with safe seats and people voting for candidates simply because of the colour of their rosette. I live in a 3 member ward and at the last district election we had a 'choice' between 3 Conservative, 1 Labour and 1 UKIP candidate. So at least one Tory is guaranteed to be elected before a single vote is cast. That doesn't seem fair to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Birmingham has 10 MPs and one Council. Has nobody complained about Social Services ? London has 73 MPs and 33 Council Boroughs, that's 2 or 3 MPs per Borough. That seems OK to me.
    Warwickshire has 6 MPs so two or three council areas would probably work OK. Staffordshire has 9 MPs plus Stoke, so three or four new Unitary Councils plus the Stoke Unitary might work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    8. Griffin Turton
    Depends on the councillor.
    My old West Sussex Councillor was a real grafter. I even did telling at his elections even though I have no party affiliations. Proud to have known him.
    Then sadly he died.
    We now have a new one who's also a Horsham District Councillor. Must be a wizard, because he has a cloak of invisibility.
    They say a blue baboon would get elected here.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Personally I believe the more elected representatives we have the less they individually represent. West Sussex County Council has 71 councillors, in the lower tier there are 7 district and borough councils including Chichester District Council, which has 48 councillors alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    no doubt council staff numbers would reduce; but something tells me our elected member numbers would not, the thirst for power is to great, hence an excellent idea will get killed off by those we elect!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It's not just the general public who are confused about which tier of local government is responsible for certain services. Even people who work for government departments are confused.

    My local job centre told me they didn't know whether it's the county or district council who are now responsible for administering crisis grants to needy families.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Cont from post 4

    It doesn't really matter whether local services are run from an office 5 miles away or 50 miles away, we will still have elected councillors to oversee and scrutinise things.

    I think it would be wise for larger counties like Staffordshire, where the north and south of the county are very different in character to be sub-divided into more than one unitary council.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Small district councils are proving themselves to be inefficient and increasingly belong in the past. Birmingham has a single council for over a million people and nobody complains about that. Unitary councils work in Shropshire and Herefordshire, so why not other shire counties? District councils could simply become committees of county councils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    This is a no-brainer for small counties like Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. Of course the two tier system is wasteful. A unitary authority for both these counties would be sensible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Dont think any changes would make much difference to the people who pay the bills (ratepayers). The way we are governed at National and Local level is expensive, inefficient and not necessary. Too many MP's, County and local Councillors all costing money, too many public servants serving their needs and too much self interest. Duplication abounds and efficiency is an unknown commodity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Easy to criticise councils; for ineffective councillors, democracy stifled by Mr Prescott's cabinet system, highly paid chief executives, incompetent officers.
    Not all are like that, and councils don't even have to do all the things they do.
    The most pressing need is for govt to stop piling on the red tape. And to de-politicise local councils.



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