Minister says government 'will not impose' unitary council plans upon Nottinghamshire
Local approval will still be important if councils in Nottinghamshire are to be scrapped and replaced with one new council, the local government minister has said.
He said he wanted to make it easier – potentially with financial incentives – for councils who do ‘embrace reform’, but didn’t want to ‘impose’ council restructures on areas that didn’t want them.
New guidelines are expected to be published by the Government later this year for local government reorganisation.
The Conservative-led Nottinghamshire County Council has long wanted to abolish all seven district and borough councils – and itself – and replace them all with one council for the whole of Nottinghamshire, outside the city.
It argues this could save taxpayers around £30 million a year, and improve services.
However, the scheme was highly contentious, with Labour councillors and several borough and district councils vocally opposed, arguing it would weaken local decision making and cost a huge amount in the short term.
Under previous guidelines, ‘broad consensus’ was needed in order to reorganise local government.
The county council’s plans were unexpectedly shelved in December 2018, but a new committee – which met for the first time last week – is tasked partly with looking into renewing the scheme.
Now, Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who is also the Conservative MP for Newark, has said he wants to make it easier to reform, but that he doesn’t want it ‘imposed’.
The Government’s new guidance white paper is expected this year.
Mr Jenrick said: “We’re going to publish a white paper on devolution and recovery in the autumn, and that will set out our ambitious plans for more mayors, greater powers and financial incentives to be given to local councils who embrace reform, and set out the important role we want local councils to play in economic growth in the future, particularly at the end of the transition period when we are able to take back more control from the EU and we will also have the funding that used to be given to local areas by the EU and want to find a better way to spend that in local communities.”
Asked whether the current requirement for ‘broad consensus’ would be maintained, Mr Jenrick said: “Today, if you want to have a mayor then you need to have the unanimous support of all the councils.
“If you want to pursue local government reform such as unitarisation you need to be able to demonstrate broad support but you don’t need to demonstrate unanimous support.
“We will set out in the white paper our plans, but we want to make it easier for local councils to embrace reform, but we’re not in the business of imposing solutions in local areas where there’s no demonstrable support.
“I’m not in the business of 1970s top-down local Government reform where we impose solutions on parts of the country that don’t want them.
“My personal view is that there are a lot of savings to be found through embracing reforms like unitarisation, and there can be other benefits as well, like the delivery of critical public services like social care, which we’ve seen in the pandemic how fragmented and challenging the sector is.
“It will be a choice for the local area whether they want to embrace these reforms.
“I’m fortunate enough to represent a constituency with a number of excellent local councils, so in this area I appreciate it’s not a straightforward decision because, certainly in my experience, both Newark & Sherwood and Rushcliffe councils are high-performing councils which have done a good job in the pandemic of supporting their local communities, so it will be up to them to decide whether they want to embrace the reforms we will make available.
“But the important thing to emphasise is that it won’t be imposed on communities, it will be up to local councils here to decide whether it’s a route they want to follow.”