Unitary council plans would be a 'disaster' for Mansfield

The plan to create unitary authorities across the country would ‘make it impossible for the voice of the local community to be heard’ says leader of the Labour group, Andy Abrahams.

By Katrina Taylor
Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 4:48 pm

New guidelines are expected to be published by the Government later this year for local government reorganisation, which Andy Abrahams believes will be a ‘disaster for our historic town’.

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.

The move could see an end to the era where our county has eight separate councils and instead bring all of that under one roof in one, unitary council.

Leader of the Labour group, Andy Abrahams, opposes the plans for a unitary authority.

Mr Abrahams, leader of the Labour group, said of the proposal: “The government has secretly been undertaking work whilst openly praising our officers, staff and councillors who have been doing everything in their power to support business to survive, administering grants in record time and efficiency and looking after the needs of the most vulnerable in our district.

“This legislation to create unitary authorities across the country would bring to an end Mansfield’s proud 129 year history as a borough and district council.

“The idea to create single authorities for anything between 400,000 to 600,000 residents will make it impossible for the voice of the local community to be heard."

There have been assurances from Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government this week, who has said he wants to make it easier to reform, but that he doesn’t want it ‘imposed’.

Robert Jenrick MP says communities will not be forced to accept unitary council proposals. Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

He said: “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.”

Mr Jenrick continued: “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.”

MP Ben Bradley who believes a unitary authority would benefit the area.

Andy Abrahams believes the plans are an insult to the hard work of the local council during the pandemic.

He continues: “After 10 years of under-funding, reducing the money available to local authorities by 60% and then not paying them for all their loss of income and expenditure during the pandemic, the government have the gall to accuse the district councils as being inefficient.

“No business could survive and continue to deliver their services with the cuts under austerity like Mansfield district council has.”

Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield has a very different view.

He writes in his column this week that having one council for the whole county is the ‘best option’ to deal with the funding crisis we find ourselves in post-coronavirus.

Responding to initial reports that Nottinghamshire County Council plans to increase council tax by 10%, he was quick to clarify that it was ‘actually impossible for councils to raise tax by that much’ and that the plans for a new, unitary council, could ‘safeguard services and boost the budget, without the need for these kinds of massive tax hikes’.

He said: “In my view changes to the way we do local government are inevitable.

"We have eight councils and more than 300 councillors all doing largely the same job.

"Some are very good, others are not - this isn't a judgement on how well people do their jobs - it's just that now, particularly when faced with the cost of coronavirus, the current systems are not financially sustainable.

"We can make sure that the service delivery itself stays local, that you can always access a front desk where you live, and that there's a strong voice for residents, whilst also rationalising the systems that plan all of this stuff so we don't waste money doing each thing eight times.

"It's just common sense, in my view.”

Andy Abrahams, however, remains unconvinced and believes the plans will lead to ‘significant’ job losses and a lack of local focus.

He believes that, despite promises to the contrary, the plans could lead to drastic cuts to non-statutory local services such as the Palace Theatre, Mansfield Museum, community centres, Neighbourhood Wardens, and the extensive events programme which stimulate the local economy.

He continues: “The fabric of our community that makes Mansfield a part of the place that we love will be dismantled by totally unnecessary reorganisation of local government.

“That is a bad move for democracy and will lead to significant job losses.

"The advocates of this reorganisation, which includes our local MP, quote that ‘millions of pounds’ will be saved by removing the very people who know what is required to revitalise the local economy and look after the vulnerable, as we plan a recovery that reflects our communities’ needs.

"The real truth is that this reorganisation of local government on a national scale will cost millions, will be disruptive and will waste time.

“The inevitable cuts to services will result in a significant loss of income to the local economy and be a disaster for our historic town.

"I will fight to save the district of Mansfield and hope our local MP, who consistently praises the officers and staff of the council, will do likewise.”

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