A WAR of words has broken out between council leaders over the proposed shake-up of local government in Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council was accused of misleading the public after it claimed creating a single council for all services in Oxford would lead to tax rises of 10 per cent for households or require massive cuts to balance the books.

County finance chiefs said this was because the city’s population of 158,000 would not bring in enough taxes, leaving a budget shortfall of £30m and putting social care for children and adults at risk.

Ian Hudspeth, county council leader, said: "At the moment, the figures do not appear to stack up.

"We want to see more information so there can be a full and open debate."

But the claims were dismissed as "propaganda" in a strongly-worded statement from Oxford City Council, which said its own analysis by a consultant found a city authority would be "viable and sustainable".

With the four district councils neighbouring Oxford, it has proposed abolishing the county council and creating four new ‘unitary’ authorities for Oxfordshire.

These would work together on a combined authority to manage costly services such as social care.

City council leader Bob Price added: "We were given a very clear indication that a city authority would work, but our current proposals would not just be about one authority – there would be four unitary councils on a combined authority.

"The county council has failed to understand that position."

The comments came as the district councils prepared to commission a study to look at how councils in Oxfordshire should be reorganised, in a bid to agree a devolution deal with the Government.

Vale of White Horse District Council leader Matthew Barber said the current two-tier system – with the county council wielding some powers and district councils wielding others – was "broken".

Speaking on behalf of the district councils, Mr Barber urged the county council to "stop shouting from the side-lines and get on board".

Mr Barber said: "It’s time for them to co-operate with the work being undertaken and not to waste the public’s money duplicating the study."

Since 1974, local government in Oxfordshire has been divided into a two-tiered system of Oxfordshire County Council and the districts – Oxford City, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell – which run different types of services.

The study due to be commissioned by the district councils will examine plans to create four new councils in Oxfordshire that would run all services and be part of a combined authority.

This idea will also be compared against other options, such as having one council for the whole county; a "doughnut" arrangement of one council for the city and another for the rest of the county; and three councils, including one for the city, one for the north of the county and one for the south of the county.

The county council favours creating a single council for all of Oxfordshire but leader Mr Hudspeth insisted the study was an attempt by the district councils to put "headlines ahead of joint working".

He pointed to a note in the brief for consultants which "ruled out the possibility of a single county unitary before the study has been conducted".

The briefing document says: "The district councils’ view is a single county-wide unitary authority is not the right solution for Oxfordshire and would not be able to reflect the local priorities of residents.

"The objective of this consultancy project is to test the proposal for four unitary councils with a combined authority."

The proposal for four new councils has been backed by Prime Minister David Cameron and Oxfordshire's five other MPs.

However, in a blow to the plan, advice recently issued by the Government appeared to suggest the new authorities would be too small.

'Unitary' authorities should cover areas with populations of between 300,000 and 700,000 people, officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government have said, but none of the new authorities proposed would meet this requirement.