A TOTAL of £200,000 of your hard-earned ‘taxpayer’ money has been spent on a ‘shambolic’ exercise supposed to shine a light on how to trim down the excesses of local government.
And the leaders of all Oxfordshire councils – who had a hand in hiring big city accounting firms at our expense to produce two separate reports on the issue – have made a pact to not discuss the matter further.
Their lips are firmly sealed over the failed investigation into how to bring about unitary status – a one-size-fits-all council for the whole of Oxfordshire rather than the existing city, county and district authorities we all fund now.
The reports revealed yesterday £22m a year could have been saved had the councils agreed to scrap the multi-tier system.
Opposition leaders branded the exercise an "expensive shambles" after the U-turn meant the past six months of debate had effectively been for nothing.
Andrew Gant, leader of the Oxford City Council Liberal Democrats, accused officials of turning the process into a "turf war" instead of seeking a compromise, and demanded a full debate of the report findings.
He said: "This process has turned into an expensive shambles.
"As the reports show, unitary government could clearly bring huge benefits but the district and county councils have instead turned this into a turf war between them.
"It has always been clear that would require agreement, not simply rubbishing what the other side says or bullying them until they agree with you.
"The fact remains the current system of local government does not work in the interests of people in Oxfordshire and we want a continuation of the debate."
And Jill Huish, a campaigner fighting budget cuts to Oxfordshire's children's centres, said: "This is a huge amount of money that could make a massive difference to people's lives.
"If council leaders cannot decide between them what to do, maybe the public should have a say."
TaxPayers' Alliance campaign manager Harry Davis said cutting down "bloated" local government was the "right thing to do".
He added: "But those making these decisions have to be careful not to waste taxpayers' money commissioning multiple reports that are just going to be ignored.
"When times are tough and savings have to be found, council bosses need to put their differences aside to make sure they deliver value for money."
Despite the fierce criticism, city council leader Bob Price said a split over how many authorities there should be under a new system meant further debate would be "a waste of time".
He added: "The Government has been clear we cannot make progress without a consensus, which does not exist.
"That is not likely to be achieved, so we are not going to carry on talking about it."
West Oxfordshire District Council leader James Mills would not be drawn on the details of the report but admitted that a major shake-up was now "off the table".
County council leader Ian Hudspeth, South Oxfordshire District Council leader John Cotton, Cherwell District Council leader Barry Wood and Vale of White Horse District Council leader Matthew Barber all refused to comment on the reports findings, but Mr Barber rejected claims it was a waste of money.
They have instead agreed to revive proposals for a devolution bid, which was jointly agreed in February.
According to the reports published yesterday – one produced for the county council and another for the four districts and city council – the new 'unitary' authority would be the third largest of its kind in England.
Both found it would be the most efficient option, saving taxpayers £113m by 2020 and cutting the total total number of elected councillors from 282 to as few as 75.
It would run all services such as housing, transport, waste disposal and social care.
But while the county council favours having one single council, Oxford City Council and the district councils have called for three that would work together on a combined authority instead.
PwC, which produced the study for the district councils, found this could save £75.5m by 2020.
But Mr Price said the Government's insistence that council leaders must all agree on a preferred option meant hopes for a reorganisation were now "dead".
Instead, it is understood discussions will now focus on plans put forward in the devolution bid to merge health and social care.
Oxford Civic Society chairman Peter Thompson said the decision was "frustrating".
He added: "The status-quo is unsustainable because councils have so far completely failed to work together on strategic planning.
"In Cambridge they put aside differences to do that and the benefits are there to see. Oxfordshire compares very poorly."