Plans to abolish the current six-council structure and transform it into a unitary ‘Better Oxfordshire’ have been approved by Oxfordshire County Council (OCC).
At a cabinet meeting on March 14, OCC formally approved the decision to submit the unitary bid to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
‘A new council for a Better Oxfordshire’ is a joint proposal by OCC, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils.
This comes after resistance from the three remaining councils Cherwell, Oxford City, and West Oxfordshire, who in the run-up to the decision had launched petitions and surveys in opposition to the restructure.
In the meeting, OCC leader Ian Hudspeth said: “Some people who oppose change have chosen to present the proposal as a threat to services and local democracy. Actually, the opposite is true.
“Without change to the way local government is run, we face more years of salami slicing as central government funding is reduced.
“The Better Oxfordshire proposal puts local government on a sustainable financial footing for the future.
“In contrast, choosing the status quo is a decision with real downsides.”
Speaking on the opposition, he said: “I do regret that the remaining city and district councils continue to reject our invitations to work together. Let me sincerely repeat the invitation to do so.”
He added that it would be a ‘missed opportunity’ to join up services like housing and social care, and said that a unitary council would maximise the ability of public services to work with the NHS.
He said access to a £1bn local investment fund would mean that the unitary could fund infrastructure improvements when the government cannot.
The opposing councils commissioned market research company Ipsos MORI to gauge the opinion of residents to the proposals.
Ipsos MORI contacted 1,950 Oxfordshire residents and found that 82 per cent had little or no understanding of the unitary county council proposals.
Almost three quarters (68 per cent) said they did not have sufficient information about how the unitary council proposals would impact them and their area.
Before the meeting on Tuesday, people in South Northamptonshire, whose residents and businesses share services with Cherwell district council, were urged to show support against the unitary move.
Cllr Ian McCord, leader of the council, said: “It is not possible to pull one council off the see-saw and jettison the other in the air, OCC must come clean and make their plans clear.”