On 14 March 2017, 11 days after ‘Better Oxfordshire’ was published, Oxfordshire CC’s Cabinet met to decide whether to submit their proposal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. This despite the opposition of the City Council and two District Councils – Cherwell and West Oxfordshire.
Members of the public are allowed a few minutes to address the Cabinet. Ian Green a member of Oxford Civic Society’s Executive Committee and Chairman of the Oxfordshire Futures group spoke on our behalf as follows:
Councillor Hudspeth and Cabinet members – thank you for this opportunity to make a statement.
I am speaking on behalf of the Oxford Civic Society and its associated Oxfordshire Futures Group.
We thoroughly reviewed the ‘One Oxfordshire’ proposal and submitted our detailed comments in response to the County’s request. We have also reviewed the ‘Better Oxfordshire’ proposal and have submitted comments.
Our review of the more recent proposal leads us to the same conclusion we reached after reviewing the first draft: the proposal is not ready for public consultation and is certainly not ready for submission to central government
- The overall governance arrangements which will replace the existing district and city councils remain too vague and it is not possible to assess how the reorganisation will revitalise local democracy and improve service delivery and value. We doubt that the proposal will strengthen accountable leadership.
- The proposal for the governance arrangements for the City of Oxford do not seem to take into account its crucial economic role in the county and the complexity of the city’s economic, social and environmental challenges. But the proposal is too vague to enable an assessment of its impact on city management effectiveness.
- Not enough evidence is drawn from governance arrangements made or being made in comparable contexts – and some of the evidence cited is of doubtful value as the contexts are not comparable (Salisbury for example) or not fully explained (Wiltshire and the separation of Swindon from Wiltshire). There is no mention of Cambridgeshire.
The Secretary of State is interested in workable governance arrangements which will deliver better local service delivery, greater value for money, stronger and more accountable leadership and significant cost savings.
A proposal which is not fully thought through and which is supported by only 3 of the 6 local authorities comprising Oxfordshire does not demonstrate the capacity to deliver these.
We very much hope that the Cabinet will decide that more efforts to achieve a consensus are needed and that a submission to the Secretary of State at this stage is premature.
We hope that consensus within Oxfordshire can be achieved and with constructive collaboration governance arrangements can be agreed which will enable Oxfordshire to contribute more effectively to the national economy and to efficiently provide ever improving quality of life for all its residents, workers and visitors.
To our regret the Cabinet, none of whose members represents a division within Oxford city, decided to go ahead and send ‘Better Oxfordshire’ to the government for approval.