Hertfordshire County Council leader urges Prime Minister to push ahead with council reform

Cllr David Williams has written directly to the Prime Minister

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 4:53 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 4:54 pm

Hertfordshire County Council leader cllr David Williams has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to push-ahead with reforms to local government – amid fears the expected white paper may be delayed.

Writing directly to the PM, cllr Williams outlines the benefits of a move towards unitary authorities, for those areas – like Hertfordshire – that operate a two-tier council structure.

And he highlights concerns at suggestions that the devolution white paper – widely expected to include moves towards more unitary authorities and more elected mayors – may be delayed.

Hertfordshire County Council leader urges Prime Minister to push ahead with council reform

He also suggests opposition to new unitary authorities may be politically motivated – as well as highlighting the political implications that the reform agenda could have for Conservative councillors and MPs across the country.

Hertfordshire County Council has already commissioned its own exploratory work that suggests that replacing it and the 10 district and borough councils with a single unitary authority could save up to £140m a year.

But the controversial move has been opposed by leaders of all 10 district and borough councils, who have vowed to oppose a move to a single unitary authority in the county.

The letter to the PM – written on County Council Network note paper – was sent in Cllr Williams’ capacity as leader of the Conservative Group of the CCN.

In the private letter, Cllr Williams tells Mr Johnson the white paper is a “real opportunity to deliver your Government’s vision to drive economic growth and level up the country.”

He says a move towards unitary authorities – and away from the “wasteful two-tier system” – would save £3bn over the next five years.

And he suggests unitaries are better able to provide strategic leadership, build more homes, act as champions of economic growth and deliver better public services – and would also “breathe life in to local democracy”.

Meanwhile he also says they are a ‘prerequisite’ to establish combined authorities or devolution deals.

Speaking on behalf of the Conservative Group on the CCN, he says members are “concerned” by recent suggestions that the white paper may be delayed.

He says this would “set back economic recovery and local growth prospects up and down the country”.

And it would, he says, “represent a failure to capitalise on what is a clear opportunity for reform.”

But in the letter Cllr Williams also points to the political implications of a delay to the government’s ‘reform agenda’ – particularly for the so-called Red Wall MPs.

And he says: “It is no surprise to me that many of those celebrating reports of delays to the Devolution White Paper are Labour and Liberal Democrat District Councillors, who regarded the prospect of strong county based unitaries as threats to their strongholds.”

In support of the reform agenda, he also dismisses a link that has been drawn between the number of Conservative district councillors and the Party’s chances of returning a Conservative MP.

And he concludes: “We now have a once in a generation opportunity to put in place effective, efficient and sustainable units of local government which can think and act strategically and, alongside empowered town and parish councils, also be genuinely local and rooted in the identity of England’s great counties.

“I trust that you share our vision, as we certainly share yours, and that the Government will put in place measures to make this a reality.”

The County Council Network – which is a cross party organisation – has already distanced itself from the letter.

In response, a statement from the CCN said: “CCN is a cross party organisation, which includes political groups.

“The letter was sent in Cllr Williams’ capacity as the leader of the Conservative group at the CCN – as clearly stated in the first line of the letter.”