James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has today announced that Buckinghamshire will form a new Unitary Authority to sit alongside Labour-led Milton Keynes.
The Labour Party in Buckinghamshire feels that the move from 4 District Councils and 1 County Council towards a single unitary authority will risk jobs and create a democratic deficit in Wycombe, the only unparished area of Bucks. A number of key issues must be addressed as the District Councils and Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) merge in to one local authority. The Labour Party calls upon the new unitary authority to:
Retain all service delivery staff. There should be no reduction in staff and the new authority must issue assurances to all personnel (with the exception of officers).
Ensure selection and appointment of officers for the new unitary is transparent to residents. Non-elected positions should not be automatically filled by incumbents from BCC. Instead, candidates from all five councils should be considered.
Ensure and extend public scrutiny of local governance. Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) has ignored feedback from some of its own scrutiny committees on finance, children’s services and more. The new unitary should not be permitted the leeway to do so.
Ring-fence reserves and service budgets. BCC has seen a significant degrading of services and infrastructure, while running down its reserves. The districts have generally managed their reserves far better. It is time to rethink financial strategy, to improve our local services and to ensure that the new unitary authority does not continue with BCC’s failed approach.
Devolve some services currently administered by districts to Parish and Town Councils, along with the associated funding. Such devolution will strengthen the first tier of local government and make service delivery in Buckinghamshire more sensitive and responsive to local needs.
Ensure fair representation for the north of the county and that the needs of more rural areas are not over-ridden by those of urban centres.
Establish a town council in Wycombe. The largest town in the UK without a town, borough or parish council, the elimination of the Wycombe District Council will result in the under-representation of residents.
The Labour Party in Buckinghamshire will work tirelessly through the unitarisation process to ensure that it is people and community, not just politics or finance that shape our futures and we will work to safeguard the jobs of council employees across every local authority in Bucks.