City council pins hopes on new bid for unitary status

Oxford City Council could go it alone

Oxford City Council could go it alone

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Council Reporter, also covering Oxford city centre. Call me on 01865 425429

OXFORD could become an entirely self-governing city and the county council abolished if Labour wins the next General Election, the city council’s leader has said.

Labour city councillor Bob Price expects Oxford to be included in a review of local authority structures which he says could follow next year’s poll – once again raising the controversial subject of changing the county’s governance to unitary authorities.

Currently services are delivered under a two-tiered system of the county council and the five district councils.

Mr Price has said that Oxford would become a powerful “city region” if Labour is able to introduce the recommendations in the interim report of a review being drawn up by former Labour cabinet minister Lord Adonis – a Lib Dem Oxford city councillor from 1987-1991.

Mr Price’s vision would see the county council abolished and the remaining districts merging with authorities they already have partnerships with. South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse councils would join up, as would West Oxfordshire and Cotswold District, and Cherwell and South Northamptonshire.

Meanwhile, county council Conservative leader Ian Hudspeth has said he has pondered an alternate plan of his authority taking over the districts, but was not working on that currently.
Mr Price said: “The Coalition Government has made it clear that there will be no consideration of local government reorganisation during this [parliament].

“When the new Labour Government takes office in May 2015, the radical devolution of powers and financial resources to city regions contained within the Adonis Report will be accompanied by some adjustments to local authority structures, and I would expect Oxford to be involved in that review process.”

Mr Price envisages that this new unitary authority would cover Oxford and some of its surrounding area – including Kidlington, Botley and land south of Grenoble Road where the city council wants to build thousands of homes.

He said this would allow central government to provide millions of pounds of funding to the new authority.

Mr Price said: “They would be far more effective because the amount of money they would get from central government would be quite large.”

In 2006 Oxford City Council submitted an unsuccessful bid to the Government to be granted unitary status.

And Mr Hudspeth admitted he has considered making a bid for a single authority across the county – wiping out all the districts.

He said: “I cannot deny that we have thought about it but we are concentrating on what services we are currently delivering first. The Government has no plans for local government reorganisation at the moment.

“The Conservatives will win the 2015 election, therefore Bob is being completely fanciful.

“But if the unthinkable did happen we would obviously approach that when the time came.

However, if Oxford did become a unitary authority it would increase costs for residents because they would have to have an extra highways team, an extra social services team and an extra education team.”

The issue was raised by Lib Dem city councillor Jim Campbell at the most recent full city council meeting last week.

He asked Mr Price: “In the light of the increasingly swingeing reductions to local government funding, and of continuing public confusion as to which authority is responsible for what, would the council be willing to prepare a new bid for unitary status?”

Asked for his reaction, Matthew Barber, Conservative leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “I don’t think Labour will win the next General Election.”

Barry Norton, Conservative leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “I cannot countenance the electorate returning a profligate and financially inept Labour Party back into power in 2015.

“As well as the huge costs involved in creating unitaries, if you compare the levels of council tax currently charged by Oxford City Council alongside that of the districts in our county, it is a no-brainer that district council taxpayers will want no part in a predatory city council’s attempt at empire building.”

Barry Wood, Conservative leader of Cherwell District Council, said: “My first thought is it’s by no means certain Labour will win the next General Election. And second, it is not clear to me even if they did, that they have any such intention to launch a reorganisation of local government.

“Given that, there’s not much point even on speculating on it.”

WHAT IT MEANS

  • OXFORDSHIRE’s council services are delivered under a two-tiered system of Oxfordshire County Council and the districts – Oxford City, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell.
  • The county council is the largest organisation by far, and is responsible for services such as education, social services, the fire service, libraries, the majority of the roads and transport planning, trading standards and waste management. It employs 20,000 people and manages about £845m of public money.
  • The districts are responsible for planning, housing, licensing, leisure and parks, environmental services, waste collection, some minor roads and collecting council tax.
  • Unitary authorities are councils which do all these services themselves.
  • There are currently 55 of them in England and, in Wales, all councils are unitary authorities.
  • They were created during a structural review of local government in the 1990s, including the changes in Berkshire which abolished its county council.
  • A further tranche was created in 2009 which Oxford unsuccessfully applied for.

Comments (18)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

9:32am Mon 21 Apr 14

Chris Henderson says...

This has more to do with Bob Price's obsession with grabbing the land south of Grenoble Rd for the city than with improving the lot of residents.
He would do better to concentrate on protecting public services under the current structure than indulging himself in flights of fancy.
This has more to do with Bob Price's obsession with grabbing the land south of Grenoble Rd for the city than with improving the lot of residents. He would do better to concentrate on protecting public services under the current structure than indulging himself in flights of fancy. Chris Henderson
  • Score: 3

10:28am Mon 21 Apr 14

Sandy Wimpole-Smythe says...

City council pins hopes on new bid for unitary status.


At first glance I thought this said 'urinary status', judging by Oxford City Council's performance in the past it might be a better title.
City council pins hopes on new bid for unitary status. At first glance I thought this said 'urinary status', judging by Oxford City Council's performance in the past it might be a better title. Sandy Wimpole-Smythe
  • Score: 9

10:47am Mon 21 Apr 14

Trevor Craig says...

It makes sense to have one unitary authority for the entire county rather than Labour trying to chop up the county to maintain electoral advantage. The petty party squabbling that will likely continue while this debate goes on will do nothing but further alienate us from the parties further. Put it to a referendum to the entire county and give us the choice of which option we would like, not what the parties would like.
It makes sense to have one unitary authority for the entire county rather than Labour trying to chop up the county to maintain electoral advantage. The petty party squabbling that will likely continue while this debate goes on will do nothing but further alienate us from the parties further. Put it to a referendum to the entire county and give us the choice of which option we would like, not what the parties would like. Trevor Craig
  • Score: 11

10:59am Mon 21 Apr 14

H.J.Harris says...

This looks like a great big hole for money to disappear into with no advantage for the local taxpayers.
This looks like a great big hole for money to disappear into with no advantage for the local taxpayers. H.J.Harris
  • Score: 15

11:29am Mon 21 Apr 14

Patrick, Devon says...

Unitary authorities are much more efficient than the 2 tier system, which was a stop gap compromise arrived at in the early 70s to replace tiny Victorian councils.

Cant see much point in including the Banbury and Henley areas in a unitary Oxon though - these would be better merged with neighbouring Councils.

Merging West Oxon with part of Glos doesnt make sense eitther - surely the whole of the current West Oxon should be merged with Oxford, as that would reflect the real travel to work area.
Unitary authorities are much more efficient than the 2 tier system, which was a stop gap compromise arrived at in the early 70s to replace tiny Victorian councils. Cant see much point in including the Banbury and Henley areas in a unitary Oxon though - these would be better merged with neighbouring Councils. Merging West Oxon with part of Glos doesnt make sense eitther - surely the whole of the current West Oxon should be merged with Oxford, as that would reflect the real travel to work area. Patrick, Devon
  • Score: 9

11:43am Mon 21 Apr 14

Oxonian says...

Ian Hudspeth says: “The Conservatives will win the 2015 election".

A pig just flew overhead.
Ian Hudspeth says: “The Conservatives will win the 2015 election". A pig just flew overhead. Oxonian
  • Score: 9

12:13pm Mon 21 Apr 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

Oxonian wrote:
Ian Hudspeth says: “The Conservatives will win the 2015 election".

A pig just flew overhead.
You're forgetting that on the 18th September this year Scotland is very likely to go independent..

If this happens, the next parliament will be pretty much fully engaged on the business of exit of Scotland from the UK - so there won't be much time for a reshuffling of English local authorities.

In the parliament after that, without the 41 Scottish Labour MPs, it's unlikely that there'll be a Labour government at Westminster for a long time.

I am all for unitary authorities though. The bigger the better. Perhaps just 6 Regional plus London to serve the whole of England.

Probably just a single "Recycle for England" organisation for waste too.
[quote][p][bold]Oxonian[/bold] wrote: Ian Hudspeth says: “The Conservatives will win the 2015 election". A pig just flew overhead.[/p][/quote]You're forgetting that on the 18th September this year Scotland is very likely to go independent.. If this happens, the next parliament will be pretty much fully engaged on the business of exit of Scotland from the UK - so there won't be much time for a reshuffling of English local authorities. In the parliament after that, without the 41 Scottish Labour MPs, it's unlikely that there'll be a Labour government at Westminster for a long time. I am all for unitary authorities though. The bigger the better. Perhaps just 6 Regional plus London to serve the whole of England. Probably just a single "Recycle for England" organisation for waste too. Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: -28

12:13pm Mon 21 Apr 14

cowleyman says...

Patrick, Devon wrote:
Unitary authorities are much more efficient than the 2 tier system, which was a stop gap compromise arrived at in the early 70s to replace tiny Victorian councils.

Cant see much point in including the Banbury and Henley areas in a unitary Oxon though - these would be better merged with neighbouring Councils.

Merging West Oxon with part of Glos doesnt make sense eitther - surely the whole of the current West Oxon should be merged with Oxford, as that would reflect the real travel to work area.
oh how people have little memory ! look at the mess labour left the country in.it would be just the same iff they had total control off Oxfordshire.
[quote][p][bold]Patrick, Devon[/bold] wrote: Unitary authorities are much more efficient than the 2 tier system, which was a stop gap compromise arrived at in the early 70s to replace tiny Victorian councils. Cant see much point in including the Banbury and Henley areas in a unitary Oxon though - these would be better merged with neighbouring Councils. Merging West Oxon with part of Glos doesnt make sense eitther - surely the whole of the current West Oxon should be merged with Oxford, as that would reflect the real travel to work area.[/p][/quote]oh how people have little memory ! look at the mess labour left the country in.it would be just the same iff they had total control off Oxfordshire. cowleyman
  • Score: -1

6:05pm Mon 21 Apr 14

gel says...

We have that in Berkshire, but there are some additional costs/overheads, such as having not one Director of Education Services for example, but 7 or 8 ie one in each Unitary district, and ditto for the other Directors (& Chief Execs) at their vastly inflated salaries.
We have that in Berkshire, but there are some additional costs/overheads, such as having not one Director of Education Services for example, but 7 or 8 ie one in each Unitary district, and ditto for the other Directors (& Chief Execs) at their vastly inflated salaries. gel
  • Score: 6

6:12pm Mon 21 Apr 14

mytaxes says...

The day that Labour take complete control will be the day to leave Oxford. Does nobody remember how much council tax increased under Labour?
The day that Labour take complete control will be the day to leave Oxford. Does nobody remember how much council tax increased under Labour? mytaxes
  • Score: 2

6:27pm Mon 21 Apr 14

Patrick, Devon says...

gel wrote:
We have that in Berkshire, but there are some additional costs/overheads, such as having not one Director of Education Services for example, but 7 or 8 ie one in each Unitary district, and ditto for the other Directors (& Chief Execs) at their vastly inflated salaries.
Berkshire is a very poor example, with too many small unitaries. Oxon should not make the same mistake.

In the SW, we have 3 unitaries - Cornwall, Plymouth and Torbay, while the rest of Devon retains 2 tier councils. Cornwall and Plymouth seem to function very well, but Torbay is too small. Further reform is needed.
[quote][p][bold]gel[/bold] wrote: We have that in Berkshire, but there are some additional costs/overheads, such as having not one Director of Education Services for example, but 7 or 8 ie one in each Unitary district, and ditto for the other Directors (& Chief Execs) at their vastly inflated salaries.[/p][/quote]Berkshire is a very poor example, with too many small unitaries. Oxon should not make the same mistake. In the SW, we have 3 unitaries - Cornwall, Plymouth and Torbay, while the rest of Devon retains 2 tier councils. Cornwall and Plymouth seem to function very well, but Torbay is too small. Further reform is needed. Patrick, Devon
  • Score: 1

7:19pm Mon 21 Apr 14

William Hook says...

I think the problem is that the City of Oxford has a very small population that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. The ordinarily resident population is 151,900.
The total number of students at the two Universities totals 39,980. So at a stroke 26.6% of the population is exempt from paying the Council Tax.

The remaining 111,920 are non-students.

The number of residents aged 0-19 years totals 39,900. (This group contains 12,900 aged 15-19)

So at a further stroke you now actually have a population of as low as 72,020 that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. (I have not even gone into the level of those that are being awarded Council Tax Benefit or qualify for other exemptions.)
I think the problem is that the City of Oxford has a very small population that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. The ordinarily resident population is 151,900. The total number of students at the two Universities totals 39,980. So at a stroke 26.6% of the population is exempt from paying the Council Tax. The remaining 111,920 are non-students. The number of residents aged 0-19 years totals 39,900. (This group contains 12,900 aged 15-19) So at a further stroke you now actually have a population of as low as 72,020 that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. (I have not even gone into the level of those that are being awarded Council Tax Benefit or qualify for other exemptions.) William Hook
  • Score: 5

8:20pm Mon 21 Apr 14

mytaxes says...

William Hook wrote:
I think the problem is that the City of Oxford has a very small population that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. The ordinarily resident population is 151,900.
The total number of students at the two Universities totals 39,980. So at a stroke 26.6% of the population is exempt from paying the Council Tax.

The remaining 111,920 are non-students.

The number of residents aged 0-19 years totals 39,900. (This group contains 12,900 aged 15-19)

So at a further stroke you now actually have a population of as low as 72,020 that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. (I have not even gone into the level of those that are being awarded Council Tax Benefit or qualify for other exemptions.)
Yes, you are right with the result that a very modest two up two down now has a council tax bill of £2,000.00+. Students who do not care about council tax have two votes one in their hometown and one in Oxford. Is it any wonder we have a high spending wasteful council who refused to give us a council tax freeze this year?
[quote][p][bold]William Hook[/bold] wrote: I think the problem is that the City of Oxford has a very small population that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. The ordinarily resident population is 151,900. The total number of students at the two Universities totals 39,980. So at a stroke 26.6% of the population is exempt from paying the Council Tax. The remaining 111,920 are non-students. The number of residents aged 0-19 years totals 39,900. (This group contains 12,900 aged 15-19) So at a further stroke you now actually have a population of as low as 72,020 that is actually liable to pay the Council Tax. (I have not even gone into the level of those that are being awarded Council Tax Benefit or qualify for other exemptions.)[/p][/quote]Yes, you are right with the result that a very modest two up two down now has a council tax bill of £2,000.00+. Students who do not care about council tax have two votes one in their hometown and one in Oxford. Is it any wonder we have a high spending wasteful council who refused to give us a council tax freeze this year? mytaxes
  • Score: 2

10:52am Tue 22 Apr 14

davidrnewman says...

Although students pay no council tax, the universities and colleges could pay business rates, given that they are businesses with a high income. Unfortunately, many colleges and private schools claim to be charities and get discounts on the business rates.
Although students pay no council tax, the universities and colleges could pay business rates, given that they are businesses with a high income. Unfortunately, many colleges and private schools claim to be charities and get discounts on the business rates. davidrnewman
  • Score: 3

11:51am Tue 22 Apr 14

Patrick, Devon says...

davidrnewman wrote:
Although students pay no council tax, the universities and colleges could pay business rates, given that they are businesses with a high income. Unfortunately, many colleges and private schools claim to be charities and get discounts on the business rates.
Business rates go to central Govt, not the local council. Most of the Council's income is from central Govt grants, not from Council tax, which is less than a quarter of the income.

The point is that the 2 tier system is neither efficient nor user friendly. Party politics should not come into the argument. A unitary based on the geographical travel to work area, in this case covering an area stretching from Chippy to Thame, and from Bicester to Wantage, would enable all services to be delivered more efficiently and be more conducive to joined up thinking on housing developments and transport infrastructure.
[quote][p][bold]davidrnewman[/bold] wrote: Although students pay no council tax, the universities and colleges could pay business rates, given that they are businesses with a high income. Unfortunately, many colleges and private schools claim to be charities and get discounts on the business rates.[/p][/quote]Business rates go to central Govt, not the local council. Most of the Council's income is from central Govt grants, not from Council tax, which is less than a quarter of the income. The point is that the 2 tier system is neither efficient nor user friendly. Party politics should not come into the argument. A unitary based on the geographical travel to work area, in this case covering an area stretching from Chippy to Thame, and from Bicester to Wantage, would enable all services to be delivered more efficiently and be more conducive to joined up thinking on housing developments and transport infrastructure. Patrick, Devon
  • Score: 3

3:30pm Tue 22 Apr 14

Gunslinger says...

A unitary Oxford City would be a disaster, and repeat the mistakes made in Berkshire 16 years ago.
Better a wider Oxfordshire based authority, based on the OX postcode areas only.
Areas further south with RG postcodes, i.e. Goring and Henley, should merge into a reformed Berkshire, areas west with SN postcodes, with Swindon.
A unitary Oxford City would be a disaster, and repeat the mistakes made in Berkshire 16 years ago. Better a wider Oxfordshire based authority, based on the OX postcode areas only. Areas further south with RG postcodes, i.e. Goring and Henley, should merge into a reformed Berkshire, areas west with SN postcodes, with Swindon. Gunslinger
  • Score: 3

7:07pm Tue 22 Apr 14

Thinkingoutloud says...

A unitary authority yes but not the size of oxford city. We should have a unitary authority for Oxfordshire. All of the major services are already run at County level (e.g. social services, highways, education, fire service). Abolishing the districts and all of their councillors in a single stroke would save a fortune, then devolve services such as parks etc to town and parish councils and job done. Strategic planning of infrastructure (new houses, roads etc) must be done at county level - look at the mess the 5 district councils are already in trying to plan where to build thousands of new homes, many of them alongsdie housing developments in neighbouring district authorities with no joined up thinking about services or the impact on communities.
A unitary authority yes but not the size of oxford city. We should have a unitary authority for Oxfordshire. All of the major services are already run at County level (e.g. social services, highways, education, fire service). Abolishing the districts and all of their councillors in a single stroke would save a fortune, then devolve services such as parks etc to town and parish councils and job done. Strategic planning of infrastructure (new houses, roads etc) must be done at county level - look at the mess the 5 district councils are already in trying to plan where to build thousands of new homes, many of them alongsdie housing developments in neighbouring district authorities with no joined up thinking about services or the impact on communities. Thinkingoutloud
  • Score: 2

9:51pm Tue 22 Apr 14

Oxonian says...

Thinkingoutloud wrote:
A unitary authority yes but not the size of oxford city. We should have a unitary authority for Oxfordshire. All of the major services are already run at County level (e.g. social services, highways, education, fire service). Abolishing the districts and all of their councillors in a single stroke would save a fortune, then devolve services such as parks etc to town and parish councils and job done. Strategic planning of infrastructure (new houses, roads etc) must be done at county level - look at the mess the 5 district councils are already in trying to plan where to build thousands of new homes, many of them alongsdie housing developments in neighbouring district authorities with no joined up thinking about services or the impact on communities.
But look at the mess the present County Council has made of such things as traffic planning: Frideswide Square, for example, which is costing taxpayers millions to put right (if it ever is put right!).

Oxford City needs its own unitary authority because the County Council is packed with councillors from outside Oxford who don't understand or even care about the needs of the city of Oxford.
[quote][p][bold]Thinkingoutloud[/bold] wrote: A unitary authority yes but not the size of oxford city. We should have a unitary authority for Oxfordshire. All of the major services are already run at County level (e.g. social services, highways, education, fire service). Abolishing the districts and all of their councillors in a single stroke would save a fortune, then devolve services such as parks etc to town and parish councils and job done. Strategic planning of infrastructure (new houses, roads etc) must be done at county level - look at the mess the 5 district councils are already in trying to plan where to build thousands of new homes, many of them alongsdie housing developments in neighbouring district authorities with no joined up thinking about services or the impact on communities.[/p][/quote]But look at the mess the present County Council has made of such things as traffic planning: Frideswide Square, for example, which is costing taxpayers millions to put right (if it ever is put right!). Oxford City needs its own unitary authority because the County Council is packed with councillors from outside Oxford who don't understand or even care about the needs of the city of Oxford. Oxonian
  • Score: 1

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree