Better Oxfordshire? Not really.
12 March 2017
Three days after consultation on ‘One Oxfordshire’ closed the County published ‘Better Oxfordshire‘, a 148-page revised proposal for a unitary council. Despite giving some extra details the new version does not address most of the points we raised, and is certainly not ready for submission to the Secretary of State. This is the text of a letter we sent to County and supporting District leaders on 10 March.
For the attention of: Leaders Oxfordshire County Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and South Oxfordshire District Council.
cc Leaders of Oxford City Council, West Oxfordshire District Council, Cherwell District Council and Andrew Smith MP, John Howell MP, Nicola Blackwood MP, Ed Vaizey MP, Victoria Prentis MP, Robert Courts MP
Dear Councillors Hudspeth, Barber and Cotton,
Oxford Civic Society provided comments on the draft of the One Oxfordshire proposal on February 28th 2017 along with an attachment which was a matrix assessing the proposal against a number of governance criteria (differing slightly from the criteria used by yourselves). Receipt of our comments was acknowledged by the County on February 28th.
On March 3rd a revised draft proposal ‘Better Oxfordshire’ was published. In particular this revised proposal discusses in more detail local representation and arrangements to formulate proposals for Oxford city governance. The revised proposal also includes opinion poll results which purport to show significant support for the single authority concept (rather than the full One Oxfordshire proposal) and with no survey methods readily available for scrutiny.
We were surprised to see the revised proposal issued so quickly and having reviewed it in detail it is clear that it was in preparation long before the closing date of the consultation on the first draft. It is perhaps for this reason that it fails to address most of the points made in our response to the consultation.
Our detailed review of the revised proposal leads us to the same conclusion we reached after reviewing the first draft: the revised proposal is not yet ready for consultation and is certainly not ready for submission to the Secretary of State, DCLG. Key deficiencies are that the proposed overall governance arrangements remain too vague, that there are no firm proposals for the governance arrangements for the City of Oxford and that not enough evidence is drawn from governance arrangements made or being made elsewhere in comparable contexts.
We hope that at the County Council Cabinet meeting on March 14th the decision will be taken to put more detailed thinking into the proposal and to re-engage the citizens of Oxfordshire with another consultation. We also very much hope that the proposal is not submitted to the Secretary of State at the end of this month as planned. We suggest that no matter what the opinion poll suggests, it is the case that 2 District Councils and the City Council are not on board. Submission of a proposal with only partial support from the local authorities comprising Oxfordshire could embarrass the Secretary of State who is only 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 supported by only 3 of the 6 local authorities comprising Oxfordshire does not demonstrate the capacity to deliver these.