5 May 2018
Follow me @LindaDerrick1
I have written to James Brokenshire about the unification of the councils in Bucks (see below). I know what the Conservatives think about the proposals – they are split and arguing furiously between themselves. But what do the Labour and Lib Dem Parties think? And are they providing an effective opposition to the proposals?
Dear Mr Brokenshire
Your predecessor, Sajid Javid, asked for comments on the proposals by Bucks County Council to bring together all five county and district councils into one unitary council for Bucks. Mr Javid was minded to agree these proposals. I assume that these proposals will still go ahead unless you disagree. I would urge you to stop and reconsider.
I understand that the push behind the proposals from BCC are two fold – first BCC hasn’t got enough money and probably will soon be bankrupt, and second it’s reducing its functions to the minimum required to meet its statutory requirements and has to make even more cutbacks.
Obviously the two reasons are connected – if you haven’t got enough money, you can’t provide the services, even if you wanted to. But BCC doesn’t want to provide services which go beyond the minimal for ideological reasons; it believes in the public sector providing minimal services leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves.
BCC sees unification as the way out of its financial mess. A unified council would take over the very considerable reserves of the district councils. No wonder the district councils are furious; they see the money they have frugally preserved over many years get sucked into the coffers of a unitary council to save the reputations of the county council – and a county council they know is financially incompetent.
BCC also wants to outsource as much as possible of its remaining services to the private sector. BCC has already had a go at doing this and all its attempts have ended in disaster. Barnet council has tried it and it just doesn’t work.
But that is not going to stop a Council which sees itself on an ideological mission. It will continue to cut services and outsource what is left. And if all a Council is doing is tendering and monitoring contracts, it can do this with one man and his dog in Birmingham (or India for that matter).
So, the plan is to bring everything together in Bucks, cut services to the statutory minimum, outsource whatever it can, cut staff, and set up a plethora of unelected committees and hubs to give the appearance that we still have a democracy in the county.
On the other hand, I believe the public sector has a responsibility to invest in services and infrastructure which contribute to the safety, welfare, and prosperity of residents and to ensure fairness and equality in our community. I want good quality services which help and support the vulnerable and help underpin the fabric of society.
I also believe that, in the main, these services should be provided in-house by the public sector where the profit motive does not dominate and elected representatives can be held accountable.
I accept that taxes would be higher but should be borne by those most able to pay.
If this is the way councils in Bucks were to function, then you would need a larger and multi- skilled organisation operating locally.
However, this option is not on the table in Bucks. So I don’t support either proposal.
However, I assume you will go ahead with unification anyway. And, since you (or rather Mr Javid) asked, my preference is for the 2 council option proposed by the district councils.
I prefer this option because I think services should be provided, and decisions taken, at the most local level possible. I think this is known as localism – a principle I thought was espoused by your Government. Presumably, however, the Government has changed its mind on localism and decided big is best.
I also prefer decisions to be taken by elected Councillors who are as local as possible, approachable as possible, and accountable to local residents.
I also agree with the argument of the district councils that the interests and character of the north of the county are very different to those of the south. Put simply, Aylesbury Vale looks north for its future, and this is particularly so in view of the proposals for a million homes by 2030 between Cambridge and Oxford. The other 3 districts look towards London; they are squarely part of the Home Counties.
I can’t imagine why Mr Javid would prefer to support proposals from BCC which has proved its incompetence in so many ways. If you look at my blogsite,
you will notice it is BCC which features strongly rather than the district councils. That is because BCC is simply appalling. It is financially incompetent, it has presided over an inadequate Children’s Services for 5 years; it has one of the worst records in the country for pothole-ridden roads; its adult social services are in meltdown and it has even botched an attempt to close all its Children’s Centres.
Why would Mr Javid prefer the proposals of this Council rather than those of the district councils? I may deplore the policies of the district councils but at least they have operated with some degree of financial and economic competence.
Why would Mr Javid agree with the rhetoric of Martin Tett, the Leader of BCC? Is it simply to prevent BCC falling into bankruptcy like Northamptonshire County Council? Or is it that they share the same extreme right wing philosophy?
It is already clear that what we will get with the one big unitary is the same old County Councillors who have failed to manage their existing responsibilities over many years. The prospect that they will take over even more functions such as planning and housing is depressing.
It is even more depressing to see tens of thousands of taxpayers money spent on the opposing sets of proposals. Surely the Conservative- dominated councils should have sorted this out without spending vast amounts of taxpayers’ money.
The only good thing to emerge is the split within the local Conservative Party which will not serve it well if we ever get to vote again for our Councillors.
There is no consensus in Bucks for either option and I think you should think again – and preferably change Government policy.