Is Buckinghamshire doomed under a Unitary Council?
I attended a business breakfast meeting mid-April 2019 where Martin Tett was speaking on the Buckinghamshire Unitary Council proposal, there was not a lot of detail really in the speech other than “economies of scale” and he also spoke of a report that the Council asked Grant Thornton to produce.
Whilst no one could argue that “economies of scale” at a high level should be a good thing, like everything else it is about execution and the detail of what the end goals looks like, the timeframes of transition and more importantly fully understanding the pro’s and cons of the proposal, what does success look like, what does failure look like and more importantly what does the Council’s end goal look like, perhaps they should be forced to share this as they are clearly un-willing to voluntarily be transparent. To be clear, when I say the end goal I mean for the people that live in the county, the people that work in the county and will we suffer as a consequence as I have no doubt that the politicians that remain will benefit highly from the proposal.
Like most, if you’re unaware, the plans would see the Bucks County Council and four District Councils – Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, High Wycombe, and South Bucks – replaced by one overarching authority. But weirdly Milton Keynes is not included although it falls into Buckinghamshire, I thought Unitary meant single or one, so why has Milton Keynes been left out.
The proposed Unitary council will decide on everything from schools, local healthcare provision, roads, housing and infrastructure etc. But to bring this really to life the Bucks County Council are currently in charge of social care and the roads which are the 2 biggest issues the County faces, so what will happen is the people in charge of these services will now be in charge of everything else as well. Our elderly should be looked after better and I for one am fed up of the state of our roads, you find yourself weaving around the roads avoiding the holes and some of the pot holes you could fall down. So what is in store for us once the people are in charge of the roads are in charge of everything else, I would say we are in for a very bumpy ride.
So, to try to find out more I have requested on several occasions over the past few months the Grant Thornton report, however no response to my requests and the silence is deafening, under the freedom of information act this should be shared, what is being hidden and why will the Council not share it? What did Grant Thornton discover? What is in the report that they do not want people to see? the unwillingness to give this out is very worrying, is some kind of cover up in place.
I also tried to get a meeting with Martin Tett and was told he was so busy with the Unitary it would be at least 3 Months! So whilst this is going on in the background they are not able to do any of the business as usual tasks as councillors.
It’s my belief that any Buckinghamshire Unitary Council will be an unmitigated disaster. There are no upsides or positives. NONE. I stand in total alliance with Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern District, South Buckinghamshire and Wycombe councils when they said: “We don’t believe that this decision is in the best interest of our local residents, businesses, community groups, parish councils and various other stakeholders across the county and, based on our own engagement, we don’t believe it has strong local support.”
We now live, work and operate in the 21st Century, when does a “one size fits all” approach matter today? It doesn’t. I’m a successful Buckinghamshire businessman and resident myself (Dave Breith) and I was only able to get to this position through a lot of hard work and being flexible and agile, the current Bucks framework helped permit this. But moving to a unitary council will mean less agile, if not totally rigid, everyone will be treated exactly the same and everyone will become a number. Buckinghamshire has built a reputation on being the entrepreneurial heart of the Country, that reputation has been built because of the foundations, support that the current local councils give and allow the businesses the flexibility and support to grow. Why would we want to dismantle this fantastic structure that is working?
Recently, representations were invited from the communities of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, High Wycombe and South Bucks to be sent – via email – to the new minister for housing, communities and local government, James Brokenshire, who knew about this invitation to email the new Secretary of State, I didn’t? and, where’s the referendum opportunity? It’s a limp wristed attempt to get the support of the local authorities it will impact directly. Have we learnt nothing from the ongoing Brexit discussions and negotiations? During the run up to that referendum, the population thought they understood the fallout, is that really the case now? I believe the local residential and business population do not know, realise or understand the real reasons for this taking place and the impact it will cause them.
A single unitary authority will mean major opportunities will be missed in these areas and that a one size fits all model will not mean the best deal for everyone. This is being forced through, and forced upon the population of the County without due care or consideration. Have any costs savings been balanced and promoted? No, they haven’t. The local population need to be engaged and asked what they think is meant by a “unitary council”. I, for one, don’t know what it really means and the councils unwillingness to share information speaks volumes.
Freedom of Information request – I have repeatedly asked under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to release the findings of the Grant Thornton report into the viability of the Unitary Council in Bucks. I believe these findings should be released to the wider public but must be made public before any decision is made. People that live and work in the county need to know what is going on and my own research suggests that 90% of the people I have spoken to have do not know. Repeatedly I have requested this report, I am either ignored or denied not sure which.
The Council should share all plans to the community, what it means, when, transition and impact on the good and bad of the proposal.
A referendum must take place, so the communities of Buckinghamshire understand how they will be directly impacted, be able to have their say and for this to happen the Council has to have more transparency before making a decision that we all have to live with for the years and decades to come.