Haywards Heathens

Public to debate future of councils in West Sussex

West Sussex councilsWest Sussex county councillors have voted to initiate a public debate on reducing the tiers of local government.

Two motions were put forward this afternoon on the possibility of reducing the number of councils in West Sussex. The first was proposed by UKIP to abolish district and borough councils and increase the number and role of town and parish councils which was defeated by 51 votes to ten. Liberal Democrat Dr James Walsh then proposed for a committee to investigate the possibility of moving to a one or two unitary authority system which was slightly changed when he agreed to Conservative Ms Louise Goldsmith's amendment to hold a public consultation with residents, partners and interested stakeholders which was won by 47 votes to 14 abstentions.

Concerns were raised as to whether the savings suggested by UKIP could actually be made, the different identities and priorities of the districts and boroughs in West Sussex and that there is no appetite in central Government to create new unitary authorities in the immediate short-term. A number of councillors recommended a bottom-up approach, hence the Conservative amendment to involve district and borough councils in the debate as well as the general public.

As previously mentioned, district and borough leaders are not all dead-set against the idea of unitary authorities although Mid Sussed District leader Gary Wall isn't. The Mid Sussex Times says MSDC would be abolished in a move to unitary authorities with the loss of 350 jobs at its Oaklands campus in Haywards Heath.

There are certainly benefits with a move to unitary authorities in terms of cost savings and simplification. However, West Sussex being split into one or two unitary authorities would lose the localism – after all, Haywards Heath and Mid Sussex does not have too much in common with Chichester.

It will be interesting to see how the arguments pan out and what people see as the best way forward. One suggestion that springs to mind is abolish West Sussex County Council and facilitate greater co-operation between neighbouring district and borough councils. It might not bring the larger cost savings that one large unitary authority would bring, but it would bring some and increase the localism of local government.

Related Blog: The beginning of the end for Mid Sussex District Council?

UPDATE 20 February 2014

The press have caught up! The Mid Sussex Times says UKIP's plan to scrap councils is refused, whilst the Argus says West Sussex residents given say on unitary authority plans.

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