Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) have agreed that what many consider their “take-over bid” for all six authorities in Oxfordshire – including Cherwell – should go to the secretary of state for a decision.
The plan is opposed by three of the six authorities and appears to be driven primarily by the need for OCC to dig themselves out of a financial hole resulting, at least in part, from central government cuts. The evidence for the £20m/annum savings that OCC claim would result is currently rather feebly documented.
Oxfordshire C.C. claim the results of a survey show widespread support across the county but finding out what those surveyed were actually asked and the context set for those questions is not at all easy. A bigger survey by those opposed came up with diametrically opposite results! I guess the only thing we learn is that you can get any answer you like depending upon how you ask the question!
Any merger is likely to have profound effects upon local services including levels of council tax and local planning decisions. Such a single authority is likely to be Oxford-centric with what happens in the far-flung north – i.e. Cherwell District – probably being of passing interest. The fact that there is no detailed plan as to how local areas will have any real say in the funding of local priorities is particularly worrying.
If this merger is to go ahead we need to have much more detail about how local areas will be able to influence decisions on local planning and finance – not just about how we implement decisions handed from on-high in Oxford.
There may well be good arguments for the One-Oxfordshire approach but the case that such an arrangement will save money whilst retaining local accountability is, to date, not well made.