OXFORDSHIRE County Council leader Ian Hudspeth has called for a debate on whether Oxfordshire should be run by just one local authority instead of the existing two-tier system involving a county authority and five district councils.

As reported in yesterday’s Oxford Mail, left, Mr Hudspeth, said he wanted to look into the costs of setting up a county-wide unitary authority and said a discussion would have to take place. The Government has said it will not approve any local government reorganisation in this Parliament, but it raises the prospect of changes taking place after next year’s General Election.

Oxford City Council has said it could go it alone as part of proposals put forward by the Labour Party.

Here, MPs and other council leaders give their reactions.

Banbury Cake:

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith: I think a single main level of local government makes sense – improving democratic accountability because it would be clearer to the public who is responsible for what, and increasing efficiency because it would avoid duplication.

I think the county is too big an area for the single local council though, so I would favour one for central Oxfordshire, one for the north of the county and one for the south.

It’s ludicrous that Swindon, Reading and Milton Keynes can organise all their own local services in a single tier, but Oxford can’t.

Banbury Cake: Tony Baldry

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry: I think the present two-tier structure works perfectly well for Oxfordshire. It enables those decisions that can most effectively be taken locally to be taken locally through district councils such as Cherwell and enables those matters that need to be decided more widely and strategically to be dealt with countywide by the county council. A unitary city and an otherwise unitary county would effectively be taking us back to pre-1972.

 Banbury Cake: MP Ed Vaisey

Wantage MP Ed Vaizey: This is a matter for council leaders in Oxfordshire and for my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

I know that in joining together services in South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse has had an impact in terms of cost savings and effectiveness but Ian’s plan requires a much larger debate which I am sure he and other leaders will be willing to participate in.

Banbury Cake: John Howell

Henley MP John Howell: I know there are many who will side with him in wishing for a unitary authority but it isn’t going to happen before the election.

It is an interesting idea which needs to be looked at more carefully.

Banbury Cake: David Cameron

Witney MP and Prime Minister David Cameron: Not in favour of a unitary bid 

Barry Norton, West Oxfordshire District Council leader: It would be the biggest mistake to go to a massive unitary the size of that. It is clearly shown in terms of budget management that the larger the authorities, the more problems they have with keeping close control over financial matters.

The cost of setting up a large unitary, which would have to be met by funds which would then have to get back over a very, very long time.

Matthew Barber, Vale of White Horse District Council leader: I think it is a non-event. This government has said there will be no reorganisation in this Parliament and I don’t see any appetite for it in the next Parliament.

History suggests that Whitehall tends to impose any change on local government anyway.

Oxford City Council leader Bob Price: The current government is not interested in local government re-organisation; it is not on the agenda at the moment.

Certainly speaking from a city point of view, we are completely different to the rest of the county and we feel it would have a negative impact on the city.

There certainly is a political issue, but the city as a community would lose out dramatically.

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood did not respond to a request for her views on the issue before the Oxford Mail went to press last night.

Nor did South Oxfordshire and or Barry Wood, leader of Cherwell District Council.

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