The planning system for housing, transport and jobs would be joined up to support growth. The proposal includes an investment fund to pay for infrastructure, such as roads.
A new council
What would the unitary proposals mean for Oxfordshire?
How it will work
All six of Oxfordshire’s councils will be replaced by a new ‘unitary’ council responsible for delivering all your council services. Most of the staff providing services would transfer to the new council.
For instance, the same council would collect your bin and dispose of the rubbish. Services such as housing and social care would also work closely together. Most people in England (over 60%) already live in an area served by unitary councils.
Council tax consists of payments to the county council, district or city council, Police and Crime Commissioner, and parishes or town councils in most areas. The unitary element of council tax would replace the county and district/city payments, and would be ‘harmonised’.
The council tax bands for payments to the new council would be the same across Oxfordshire. Ultimately council tax will be decided by councillors of the new council.
Parishes and town councils will continue to raise a precept to pay for community services.
The new council will have around 125 local councillors elected by residents. Major decisions such as planning for roads will be taken at a county level, with local planning decisions taken by five area planning committees, based on the existing district and city boundaries.
Existing Local Plans would stay in place when the new council is first established. There will be between 15–20 local ‘area boards’ responsible for issues such as parks, antisocial behaviour, parking and support for the community and voluntary sector.
The local area boards would be made up of councillors for that area. There would also be representatives from parishes and town councils, and other public service organisations such as the police. The local area boards would also give communities a voice in decisions affecting the whole county.
The Better Oxfordshire proposal includes creating a new, autonomous local council for Oxford to manage community assets, provide grants to community groups, and provide social and environmental services. The new Oxford council would also be able to raise a precept (local tax). There would be several area boards for different parts of Oxford, giving communities power and influence.
How services are run now
Oxfordshire has six main councils - one county council, four district councils and a city council. There are also more than 300 parishes and town councils. Each council provides different services, and has separate local councillors. Your city or district council services include: environmental health, housing, leisure and recreation, planning applications and waste collection. Your county council services include: children’s services, support for schools, fire and rescue, libraries and museums, roads, social care, trading standards and waste disposal.
Pressures on council services
Central government has reduced funding for the county, districts and city council. Soon council services will mainly be paid for locally from council tax and business rates, as well as charging for some services. At the same time, the population is ageing and growing, which puts pressure on services. Two independent studies found that by creating a single ‘unitary’ council for Oxfordshire, at least £20m could be saved every year. This is after the one-off cost of reorganisation.