WITH further cuts projected for the public sector, regardless of whoever wins the General Election, there is no doubt in my mind that the statesmanlike thing for Oxfordshire’s political leaders to do is to examine the possibilities of different local government structures to unlock money to protect services.

We currently have six councils in the county in a two-tiered system.

The county council provides about 80 per cent of the services – including big ticket items such as highways, social services, fire and rescue and education – and the districts provide the rest including waste collection, leisure and planning.

There is no dispute that money could be saved with fewer councils, fewer councillors, less well-paid senior officers and less duplication overall.

The report we have commissioned from Ernst and Young confirms this in detail – with a unitary county saving the most for the taxpayer, £80m over five years. There would also be the potential to reduce council tax.

Other parts of the country have been operating this way for many years – one council doing all the jobs with everybody knowing where the buck stops.

We cannot carry on salami-slicing council services to make the cuts that are required as a result of the debts the national Government is seeking to eliminate.

The verdict on this current generation of senior Oxfordshire politicians – of which I am a part – will not be kind if we get to 2020 having made wholesale cuts without having calmly and rationally examined the possibilities for unlocking finances to protect services as a result of reorganising local government.

Allowing tribal affiliations to our individual councils to override the need for change to create greater efficiency would be a poor state of affairs.

Self-interest does not come in to this.

As leader of the current county council I potentially have a lot to lose as a result of pursuing these ideas.

There are no guarantees in politics.

I have no guarantee that my party will select me to lead the Conservative group in future years, nor that the people of Oxfordshire will continue to elect Conservatives in greater numbers than other parties to the county council.

However, should those two things happen, pursuing this route for Oxfordshire means the careers of many current politicians in the county would be more constrained.

The simple maths of the situation is clear.

Fewer councillors, fewer council leaders, fewer cabinet members means fewer opportunities.

This is not about me. It is not about any of the current district council leaders. It isn’t about any politician.

It is about how to create the most efficient system of local government in Oxfordshire, making us the most resilient we can be to the further national cuts coming our way.

The release of this report from Ernst and Young is now the start of a debate.

I am sure all options in this report will be considered and examined in detail.

There may be other options that people wish to propose, I will welcome the opportunity to consider them as part of the debate.

The clear conclusion of the report is that the one unitary county council for the whole of Oxfordshire would bring the biggest savings.

However the report also highlighted the potential for pooling council reserves worth over £250m into a single pot.

A new unitary council could then decide to invest strategically in vitally needed infrastructure – for example, potentially providing the much wished-for relief roads in Banbury, Didcot and Wantage and tackling congestion on the A40.

I know that the report will be challenged both in terms of the detail within it and the principles behind it.

I welcome that challenge because in making these points people will be entering a debate that needs to be had.

I look forward to that debate taking shape in the months ahead and I look forward to my generation of politicians grasping the nettle and discussing these matters in a cool and considered fashion.

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