This is a summary of our comments on Oxfordshire County Council’s “One Oxfordshire” proposals for a single unitary authority to run all local services in the county. You can read our full submission here.
These comments should be read together with our “Gap Analysis”. The competing consultants’ reports commissioned by the County and the City/Districts focused almost exclusively on financial efficiency. The Gap Analysis looks instead at issues of governance, accountability, civic engagement and democratic processes.
Our overall conclusion on the County’s proposals is that they are fatally incomplete. The problems of governance in Oxfordshire are not addressed, and there is no attempt to look at and learn from how other counties (e.g. Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire) have tackled these issues.
The effect of replacing District Councils with Area Boards is not explored in enough detail. In the special case of Oxford City, the proposal is silent on how a unitary authority would protect or enhance the City’s nationally important economic prosperity, academic excellence and world-class heritage.
We suggested a number of questions and issues that need answers before One Oxfordshire can be taken further. This is a selection:
- The proposals do not include an elected Mayor, but with the right powers a Mayor might be able to achieve a coherent vision which the dissenting councils have failed to do.
- How many local councillors would there be? What areas would they represent? How would those areas be decided – by population, geography, the size of their economy?
- What would the powers and responsibilities of the Area Boards be? How many would there be and how would their boundaries be drawn?
- Similarly, how would Parish Councils, Town Councils and unparished areas be involved? Would they welcome more powers and do they have the capability to use them wisely?
- Public engagement with the LEP and Growth Board is currently weak or absent. How will the One Oxfordshire model improve this?
We strongly suggest it would be a mistake if two competing proposals – One Oxfordshire from the county and two districts, and an alternative from the other two districts and the city – went forward to central government. The failure to reach a consensus is damaging Oxfordshire’s credibility as somewhere worthy of investment, and is a constraint on efforts to address the serious issues of deprivation or to improve the quality of life for all its residents.