Leaders at Newark and Sherwood, Rushcliffe, Gedling, Bassetlaw, Broxtowe, Ashfield, Mansfield and Nottingham city councils join forces against Nottinghamshire County Council leader in her bid for unitary authority
Battle lines have been drawn over the proposal to create a unitary authority for Nottinghamshire.
County council leader Kay Cutts has written to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, seeking a formal invitation to submit proposals.
However, the leaders of all seven district and borough councils in the county and the leader of the city council have sent letters to Newark MP Mr Jenrick opposing any such move.
The correspondence includes an accusation the rush to a unitary authority was born from Mrs Cutts’ fear of losing next May’s election.
The proposal on the table is to seek to do away with all seven district and borough councils and the county council too, and replace them with one unitary authority.
One letter seen by the Advertiser, which was signed by all eight leaders, stressed two points.
It reads: “Firstly, we do not support the potential inclusion of Nottingham and/or Nottinghamshire in any ‘first wave’ review of local government structures.
“We’re currently dealing with a spike in local covid cases across our city and county and this deserves our full attention.
“In addition, with unemployment rising, our focus needs to remain on delivering national and local priorities to renew our high streets and town centres, and create more homes and more jobs.
“All of us embrace the opportunities that public service reform can present but now is not the time to be bogged down in discussions and debate about structure and governance.
“We’re aware that the county council’s leader has encouraged support from colleagues to press ahead with a single county unitary as a ‘first wave’ review because of the threat of losing next May’s election.
“That is a wholly inappropriate consideration and one we expect you to dismiss.
“Secondly, we want to consider local government re-organisation and wider public service reform when the White Paper arrives, rather than guess what it contains.
“We also want to do this collectively, involving all tiers of local government and other key partners.
“This siloed approach reflects poorly on all tiers of government when the public quite rightly expects us to be spending our time and money on more pressing matters.
“We therefore ask that you reject the county council’s request for an invitation to pursue local government re-organisation at this time.”
The second letter said: “For Nottinghamshire residents, many of whom are struggling to keep their jobs and homes, this is a poor representation of what is a priority right now. Please will you step in and advise them that Nottinghamshire will not be considered for a first wave review of local government structures and that consulting on potential change at this time is inappropriate.”
Mrs Cutts, whose similar proposal fell by the wayside two years ago, argued doing nothing is not an option and said the process of local government re-organisation in Nottinghamshire is now under way following her letter.
“The current two-tier structure of county and district/borough councils no longer serves the interests of residents and taxpayers, which is why all councils agree on the need for change,” she said.
“The current structure is both wasteful and confusing.
“Having eight separate council headquarters, executives, senior managers, and some duplicated back-office functions is unnecessary and costs too much.
“A unitary system of local government would end this duplication and waste, and free up money to be spent on improving and protecting services.
“The time is right for change and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to simplify services, save more than £27m a year and improve the lives of Nottinghamshire residents.
“The next steps include refreshing the strategic business case, which sets out the benefits of re-shaping local government in Nottinghamshire.
“Local people will have the opportunity to give their views on our vision for 21st century local government services for this county, a place which is vibrant and inclusive, aspirational and ambitious.
“In the weeks to come, we will demonstrate the challenges facing local government and how we could significantly improve our ability to grow the local economy and deliver better outcomes for all our residents by adopting unitary status.
“Councils have faced many years of financial difficulties and we need to find ways of spending less without reducing services.
“It is even more important that we do this now, because covid-19 has made the financial circumstances of councils in Nottinghamshire worse.
“We must find ways of making our money go further and therefore, reducing duplication and waste through unitary local government just makes sense.
“We’re expecting the government to make re-organisation a condition for the devolution of more funds and powers from national level.”
In a statement, the leader of Newark and Sherwood District Council, David Lloyd said: “All the borough, district and city council leaders across Nottinghamshire, irrespective of their politics, are united in a call for the government to stop Nottinghamshire County Council’s rush to sweep away eight councils and replace them with one for the whole county.
"It is untimely, and inappropriate.”
The county council has compiled a survey for residents that closes on Monday, October 19. It can be found on the dedicated website https://bit.ly/2FTMqgH