Unitary Notts council wins backing

A scheme to abolish district and borough councils has taken a significant step forward at a heated county council meeting.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 13th July 2018, 9:26 am
Updated Monday, 16th July 2018, 5:41 pm
County Hall in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire County Council's headquarters.
County Hall in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire County Council's headquarters.

Proposals will now be put together on whether to create a new “super council” for Nottinghamshire.

It would involve dissolving district and borough councils, and the county council, and creating a new authority.

However, the proposal was watered down at the last minute, ahead of the vote.

The plan had been to vote on whether to put a business case together and send it to the Government.

Now, a case will be put together, which will then come back before councillors. Should councillors then vote in favour at a future meeting, it would then be sent to the Government.

Nottingham City Council has said if a case is eventually sent to the Government, it will create its own bid to enlarge the city’s boundaries to include West Bridgford, Arnold, Gedling and Broxtowe.

This would mean many urban areas around the city would come under the city’s authority.

Opposition councillors have queued up to attack the plans, and the way they were put together.

But Councillor Kay Cutts, Conservative council leader, laid out what she see as the benefits of the scheme, and said it should have happened years ago.

She said: “There is little justification in maintaining the bureaucracy of eight separate council offices across Nottinghamshire.

“It would make life simpler and cost taxpayers significantly less.

“The public will at least know who their councillor is, and will have a one-stop shop for all their issues.

“I believe this is what the people of Nottinghamshire want and I believe it is what the councillors in this chamber want.”

But many people who spoke at yesterday’s meeting – which lasted more than six hours – were against the proposal.

Many criticised the fact the districts were not consulted before the plan was put to the vote.

Coun John Peck, who represents Sherwood Forest division for Labour, and said: “I can’t believe how badly this has been handled. You have had years to think about this and plan for it, but you have blown it.”

Coun Joyce Bosnjak, who represents Mansfield North for Labour, said: “An issue as important as this has become a dog’s dinner. You have let ego and arrogance get in the way and have put our credibility at risk.”

Coun Alan Rhodes is the leader of the Labour group. He said the proposal would become the equivalent of Brexit. He said it would be “hugely distracting from the job we are all elected to do, deeply divisive, and ultimately doomed to failure with promises broken and expectation failing to be met”.

But Coun Philip Owen, Conservative member for Nuthall and Kimberley, said it was “project fear” to suggest West Bridgford would join Nottingham City, which he called a “basket case”.

He said the city council has always had its eye on areas like West Bridgford, but it would never happen because people there did not want it.

He said it was getting to the point where there were no more efficiency savings left to make, and that if the re-organisation did not go ahead, the county council would have to close some public services.

Coun Richard Jackson represents the Toton, Chilwell and Attenborough division for the Conservatives, as well as leading Broxtowe Borough Council.

He said: “I hope when we do have a business case, some members will see the savings are real, because if we don’t make these savings, they will have to explain to their constituents why services are having to be cut, because they didn’t back these plans.”

However in an impassioned speech, Coun Maureen Dobson, Independent member for Collingham, said the way the scheme had been handled was a “Kay Cutts special”.

She said she supported re-organisation, but it had been mishandled.

Speaking to the leader, she said: “For someone who’s supposed to be politically astute, you’ve been very naive, and I’m very surprised about that. This will not be your legacy, this will be your downfall.”

Coun Stephen Carr, a Liberal Democrat, described the process as a “shambles”.

He said: “I am totally opposed to unitary authorities. It doesn’t make sense for an area that stretches from here to Doncaster. We want more power to be held nearer the people.”

“You have turned this issue into something as divisive as Brexit.

“There is now a real danger the city will seek to expand its borders and this is incredibly unpopular in those areas.

“What you should have done is speak to all those parties, but you have not, and it will inflict huge damage on your party at the next election.

“You have failed the people of Broxtowe.

“I publicly call upon the leader and deputy leader to resign now before you cause even more damage to our county.”

Coun Reg Adair, deputy council leader, said: “It is our duty to our residents and taxpayers to look at the best way to serve them in the future.”

Speaking after the meeting, Coun Cutts said she was pleased that the council had “started the journey”, but could not say whether the business case would be finalised before the end of the year.

The scheme was narrowly voted through today by 35 to 30. A more detailed plan will now be put together by council officers, before councillors vote on the final proposals.