Local council leaders across Hertfordshire set to oppose any plan for unitary authority

Hertfordshire is split into 10 district and boroughs

Monday, 20th July 2020, 11:42 am
Updated Monday, 20th July 2020, 11:46 am

Leaders of district and borough councils across Hertfordshire are gearing up to oppose any moves to create a unitary authority across Hertfordshire.

Currently the county is split into 10 district and boroughs, where local councils provide a range of services – such as planning, environmental health, bin collection, housing and licensing.

And alongside these district and borough councils, the county council provides services such as education, libraries, social care, highways – and even the fire service.

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But not all areas across the country operate this ‘two tier’ council system – with some areas having all services administered by a single ‘unitary’ council.

And recently local government minister Simon Clarke MP has signalled a wish for more elected mayors and more unitary authorities.

No plans to change the structure of local government in Hertfordshire have yet been put forward formally or suggested publicly.

But – following the comments made by the minister – the county council has already said it will need to ‘explore how we best organise ourselves’.

And now leaders from district and borough councils across Hertfordshire have launched a pre-emptive strike – signalling that they will join forces to oppose any moves towards a unitary authority.

A statement – issued on Friday evening (July 17) by a number of district and borough councils simultaneously – said that the leaders of all 10 district and borough councils have “joined forces” to oppose a ‘county council proposal’ to establish a single unitary council.

And, it says, they will work together to develop alternative options, that ‘are effective and efficient whilst also providing proper representation for residents’.

“The leaders are opposed to the proposal for a single unitary council to serve Hertfordshire’s residents, as it would be too large and remote to support local communities and residents, and around three times larger than the size that government are likely to consider suitable for local areas,” it said.

The statement – backed by leaders from all three political parties – highlights the ‘lifeline’ the district and borough councils had provided to residents during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And it suggests the local knowledge and services had been vital in supporting local residents.

It highlights the effective way the councils had worked with the county council through the Hertfordshire Growth Board – as well as the innovative way they had protected services and saved £95m from council budgets over the past 10 years.

And it questions the ‘poor’ timing of the proposal – suggesting that absolute focus was now needed to support the recovery from the devastating effects of Covid-19.

Commenting on the way they will collaborate on an alternative proposal, the statement says: “The leaders will now work together along with other key partners and will take account of the views of residents to help inform the development of alternative options for consideration by government alongside the county council’s single unitary council proposal.

“This will be done with the aim of ensuring that any future model for local government in Hertfordshire is both effective and efficient whilst also providing proper representation for residents.

“It is not helpful to speculate at this stage about what that might look like as it requires a great deal of work to be done to identify the right solution.”

The county council has not made a specific response to the opposition by the council leaders.

But in response to the comments made by the minister about a move towards more mayors and more unitary authorities, a spokesperson for the county council has already said:

“Hertfordshire County Council values the importance of strong working relationships and collaboration across the whole public sector in Hertfordshire.

“The environment in which all councils find themselves we recover from the pandemic, requires us to explore how we best organise ourselves to continue to meet the needs of our residents and provide the most effective support for the county’s economic recovery.

“We are just at the start of those considerations and look forward to working with all councils in Hertfordshire to determine our best way forward.”