Oxfordshire leaders squabble over powers to control county’s future

Leaders are embroiled in a row over who should keep power to govern Oxfordshire.

The dispute sparked when all Oxfordshire’s four district councils and Oxford City Council announced they have united to apply to the Government this week to abolish overruling Oxfordshire County Council.

Vale of White Horse District Council leader Matthew Barber said the move – called ‘Devolution’ – would save in the region of tens of millions of pounds.

The Devolution bid has been backed by all Oxfordshire’s six MPs and would mean Oxfordshire’s highest authority – Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) – would be dissolved.

But Oxfordshire County Council’s leaders hit back claiming that if it took over the powers of the four district councils and Oxford City Council, it could save £32 million.

Speaking on behalf of the district and city councils, 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.

The four district councils are Vale of White Horse District Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, West Oxfordshire District Council and Cherwell District Council – joined by Oxford City Council, which hold the same powers as the district councils.

Their Devolution plan aims to form four new ‘unitary authorities’ which would hold all of Oxfordshire’s powers that are currently split between the county council and district/city councils.

The district/city councils have responsibilities including housing, recycling, and planning – including others. Whereas the county council has responsibilities including roads, health, and social services.

But OCC leaders warn their plan would erase the county’s identity and heritage, because the plan includes Oxfordshire’s district councils merging powers with other counties – Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire.

Deputy leader of OCC, Rodney Rose, said: “Oxfordshire is a historic county that is so much more than the sum of its parts. From a personal perspective, I would regret anything that saw that identity and its heritage disappear.

OCC’s leader Ian Hudspeth said: “It could lead to an increase in bureaucracy.

“There would have to be a review of the boundaries.

“My ideal next step is we will sit down together and look at all the options on the table.

But Mr Barber said the Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire county boundaries would not be redrawn.

He added: “I think there’s some fear mongering there. Oxfordshire as a county will remain.

OCC instead proposed four other options; one unitary council for Oxfordshire – similar to the format of OCC itself but with the district and city council powers, two unitary councils splitting Oxfordshire into two, three unitary councils splitting Oxfordshire in three, or four councils serving Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire – in the format proposed by the district and city councils.

In all cases costs could be cut by culling the number of councillors and officers.

Under the district council’s Devolution bid there would be no public vote on which model is adopted, but there would be an online consultation.

The bid is due to be submitted this week, where it will then be approved or rejected based on the strength of the application.

Mr Barber also said the new model could be in place as early as 2018.

oxfordshire area