Council Leaders propose simplification of local government to support a Devolution Deal for Oxfordshire

Released on February 25, 2016

Five council leaders are proposing a ground-breaking plan that will revolutionise public services in Oxfordshire and neighbouring areas. The plan would see the abolition of Oxfordshire County Council, with its functions transferring to three or four new Local Unitary Councils working together in partnership with the National Health Service, Police and the Local Enterprise Partnerships. These changes would simplify local government in the county and bring about significant savings that could be reinvested in public services.

Oxfordshire District Council Leaders are asking government to agree their plan for the creation of new Local Unitary Councils and to support an ambitious Devolution Deal for Oxfordshire. The devolution deal would bring in significant investment in roads, schools and public transport.

The new proposals introduce joint working with the National Health Service to pool budgets and to commission health and adult social care in a way that improves service quality and deals effectively with increasing demand.

Speaking on behalf of all of the Districts, Cllr Matthew Barber said, “This devolution deal is a fantastic opportunity for Oxfordshire and we believe we should do everything possible to secure much needed investment for the benefit of residents, businesses and communities.

Local Unitary Councils working together through a Combined Authority offer the best solution for the people of Oxfordshire. It will allow decision-making and service delivery to better reflect the different challenges and priorities of the people we serve. It will also build on the District Councils’ strong track record of sound financial planning and efficiency that are at the heart of good governance and effective service delivery.

It is important to establish from the outset that we do not support a ‘lift, shift and divide’ in terms of County Council services as this would simply move financial burdens from one organisation to another. As districts we have spent the past years delivering increasing efficiencies, transforming our services, creating shared teams, adopting flexible structures and a commercial approach. Simply dividing up county council services would not allow us to achieve the transformation needed. We will form new Local Unitary Councils and introduce new models of commissioning and delivery to transform public services for the better.”

Dr Joe McManners, Chair of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group said, “We support the ambition of the councils to bring health and social care closer together as this will improve outcomes for patients. We will wish to work closely with them in developing these plans.”

This proposal recognises that greater efficiency and co-ordination is needed than currently exists; for example, better planning for transport and housing delivery, skills development and a more joined up approach to health and social care; would benefit all residents of Oxfordshire. At the heart of the proposals is the creation of a Combined Authority. This means that Leaders of all councils in Oxfordshire will work together in the interests of their own areas and the county overall. It will also mean better coordination and greater efficiencies for services that need to be delivered across the county.

The Districts are evaluating the options for either three or four new Local Unitary Councils.  In view of the successful partnerships and close working relationships that already exist in the north and west of the county the Oxfordshire District Leaders have agreed to explore a Unitary Option that includes both Cotswold District Council and South Northamptonshire Council.

The Councils are now commissioning independent experts to work with them and other stakeholders in producing detailed, costed plans that will ensure the best and most cost-effective solutions are identified. Detailed proposals will be considered by each of the Councils prior to public consultation in the summer.