Consultants asked to ‘explore’ alternative proposals for the future of local government in Hertfordshire

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Leaders of the 10 district and borough councils across Hertfordshire have brought in their own consultants to ‘explore’ alternative proposals for the future of local government in the county, it has emerged.

In an unprecedented move, the district and borough leaders – from all three political parties – have joined forces to make it clear they will oppose any plans for a single unitary authority.

And now it has emerged that they are working with consultants to come up with an alternative model for local government.

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Speaking at a meeting of East Herts District Council on Wednesday (July 22), council leader Cllr Linda Haysey suggested that the county council had already predetermined that the best way forward for the county was as a single unitary authority.

Consultants asked to explore alternative proposals for the future of local government in HertfordshireConsultants asked to explore alternative proposals for the future of local government in Hertfordshire
Consultants asked to explore alternative proposals for the future of local government in Hertfordshire

She accepted that the existing two-tier system could seem complex and impenetrable, particularly to residents. And said that some simplicity and simplification was long overdue.

But she stressed that any reorganisation had to be right for residents and would have to offer advantages over the status quo.

She reported that the leaders from district and borough across the county did NOT believe a single authority – representing 1.2million residents – was the right approach.

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And she said they had already brought in consultants to look at possible alternative models.

She told the meeting of the council: “The 10 leaders of district and boroughs within Hertfordshire issued a joint cross-party statement, expressing our concerns that the county council had already pre-determined that the best way forward was through one unitary council, covering the whole of Hertfordshire.

“We do not believe that that is the right case.

“Hertfordshire has a current population of 1.2milion which we believe is too large to provide our residents with the service and representation that they deserve.

“Remember a unitary council will provide the vast majority of services currently provided by both the county and the district across the whole county.

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“There are other models which we believe are more appropriate. And the 10 district and boroughs are working with consultants to explore all options.”

Cllr Haysey also used the platform to send out a particular message to the council’s staff, who she said had been through a very difficult few months.

“You have really demonstrated the value that this district council adds to the lives of our residents over the past four months,” she said.

“Now we all have the potential uncertainty of local government reorganisation ahead of us.

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“The White Paper which may give some clarity is due out on September. And you can be assured – both residents and staff – that we will do out utmost to achieve an outcome that is in the best interests of our residents and businesses.”

At an earlier meeting of the county council on Tuesday, council leader Cllr David Williams had pointed to ‘cost, complexity and overlap’ in the current two-tier system.

And he specifically highlighted the allowances currently paid to 526 councillors across Hertfordshire.

He suggested structural reform could result in substantial savings – with estimates emerging that suggested a move to a single unitary council could save up to £142m a year.

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Currently the county operates on a two-tier system – with the county council providing services such as education, highways and social care and district and boroughs providing services that include planning, housing and licensing.

There have already been indications that the government wants two-tier authorities – such as Hertfordshire – to move to a single-tier ‘unitary’ model.

And Cllr Williams – who is also chair of the County Council Network – has said that such is the pressure for change from government that he expects to see the end of two-tier government by the next General Election.

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