Frequently asked questions
Is this the same as ‘devolution?’
No. Devolution is entirely different as it focuses on government handing over funding and powers to local areas to support economic growth. This could include infrastructure investment and joining up with other public services such as the NHS.
In Oxfordshire, it would be likely to involve a directly elected mayor and a ‘combined authority’ to taking on responsibility for transport and planning. Reorganisation is savings and service improvements that a devolution deal would not address.
Doesn’t this proposal stop a devolution deal for Oxfordshire?
Government has previously said it will consider separate proposals for reorganisation and devolution and we are happy to continue working with the districts/city on a separate devolution proposal, alongside plans for One Oxfordshire.
However the real question is whether central Government continues to have the appetite for devolution proposals, which have fallen apart across the country. Government remains keen to see the One Oxfordshire proposals as well as similar ones from Buckinghamshire and Dorset.
How would a mayor work?
In Oxfordshire, within the current structures, it would be likely to involve a directly elected mayor and a ‘combined authority’ to take on responsibility for transport and planning, which would add cost and complexity. Reorganisation is about savings and service improvements that a devolution deal would not address, and could pave the way for a devolution deal without introducing an additional layer of government.
Are you in favour of a mayor?
If the government will only devolve powers and infrastructure investment to Oxfordshire then we should look carefully at the idea. We would need to be convinced a mayor and a combined authority is right for Oxfordshire, and that Government is still keen to pursue the idea.
If a new unitary council is agreed, that could be led either by a leader or a directly elected mayor if that is the right choice for Oxfordshire, without the need for an additional layer of government.
However, as stated, there appears to be little appetite from Government to pursue devolution. In any case, a devolution deal would do nothing to improve services
What happens if residents say they want to stick with the current structure?
We will listen to their concerns about this proposal and think again.
Will council tax go up or down?
That would be a decision for the new council. There is a big difference in council tax levels in different parts of the county. We are also asking government to allow different areas to have different levels to reflect different local needs and priorities.
Can change happen if the districts don’t agree?
We would prefer to agree on a way forward, and have offered to work together. The secretary of state makes the final decision and says he wants to see our proposals.
How much will it cost to reorganise councils?
A one-off cost of about £16m. The £100m savings are after meeting those costs.
How many staff will be made redundant if the reorganisation goes ahead?
Grant Thornton estimated that around 410 local government posts would go in Oxfordshire as part of the reorganisation process. These posts would mainly relate to ‘back office’ or central support functions across all the councils, rather than frontline service delivery.
In practice, there would be fewer redundancies as a result of ‘natural wastage’ ie staff leaving jobs for other reasons such as career progression or retirement. The transition period would be two years so there would not be abrupt job cuts.
How many senior management posts would go in a reorganisation?
Taken as a whole, Oxfordshire’s six current councils have around 85 senior management posts. It is envisaged that the new structure would have at least 15 fewer management posts with a saving of £2m annually.
Why does the PwC report have a higher figure for the reduction of posts?
The PwC report considered both transformation and potential unitary reorganisation. Grant Thornton only considered the result of reorganising six councils to create a single[OCC1] unitary
How much did this exercise cost?
About £200,000, including a detailed financial review and ensuring residents can have their say. That’s a lot, but we are spending £400k per week on running six councils that could be spent on public services.
Are any other organisations backing these proposals?
We have only just published them so it is too early to expect anyone to back them. We have involved a large number of people including residents, businesses and other public service organisations and there is strong support for change.
Won’t a large council promote development against local wishes?
The alternative is unplanned growth and speculative development. The unitary council would be democratically accountable for planned and managed growth, and ensuring the necessary infrastructure was in place.
Will the £20m saving mean that cuts would be reversed?
That would be a decision for the new council.
When would this happen?
If the government agree to local government reorganisation, we estimate it would take about two years to create a new council.
How much money do the councils currently spend on services?
Taken together, the total revenue expenditure of Oxfordshire’s six councils (excluding schools support) was £540m for 2015/16.
This is made up from council tax, government grants, business rates and other funding streams such as New Homes Bonus and fees and charges for services. By 2020, the intention of government is to remove the block grant entirely so that councils are funded predominantly by local raised council tax and business rates.
If there is less staff, how will this improve services?
These are the posts that could be lost through joining up the organisations. They are mainly in support services such as HR and administration and in senior management. These savings will then be available to reinvest in maintaining and improving frontline services and keeping council tax down.
If the savings will be £20m per year, what is this as a proportion of total council spending?
It’s about 4% of the total of the ‘revenue expenditure’ on council services (excluding schools). It’s also about the same as 100% of the total general expenditure of Oxford City or Cherwell Councils or 200% of the total general expenditure of West Oxfordshire.
Who will provide services while the new council is set up?
If reorganisation is given the go-ahead, the existing councils would continue to exist until the new council is ready to take over running services on the date set by government. Current councils would have what’s called a “duty to cooperate” and work together to ensure that services continue to delivered during the transition and that the handover happens smoothly. This has happened very successfully in the past, most recently in 2009 in places like Wiltshire, Shropshire, Cornwall and County Durham.
Who would be responsible for setting up the new council?
Government would set out the way that an interim executive would be formed by councillors from the existingcounty, district and city councils. (There are County Council elections in May 2017 and it is councillors elected in this election that would represent the County Council in this process, not current councillors.) The interim executive would in turn appoint senior managers to form a joint implementation team, drawing on staff from across Oxfordshire’s councils. Depending on the timing of elections and decisions by central government, there may be an early election during the transition period and at that point new councillors would be elected to the new authority and they would appoint a new executive to lead the change. Otherwise, elections would take place once the new council is established.
Will council tax go up or down?
That would be a decision for the new council, and could depend on which part of Oxfordshire you live in and how much you pay now. The £20m saving gives the new council the option of spending more on services or keeping council tax down.
Would council tax be the same across Oxfordshire?
There is a big difference in council tax levels in different parts of the county. Some of this is due to differences in the charges that the district and city councils make. (Parish and Town Councils can also raise a precept which differs from place to place and this is not affected by these proposals.) Our draft bid includes the proposals to ask government to allow different areas to have different levels to reflect different local needs and priorities.
However if council tax ‘equalisation’ is needed, the new council has several options:
Fixing at the lowest rate of the former district councils. That would benefit the most taxpayers but would mean that less of the £20m saving could be used for investing in services and infrastructure
Averaging out council tax levels. That would mean some people might pay more council tax, and more of the £20m could be spent on services
Fixing at the highest rate, which would benefit fewer taxpayers and mean there was more money to spend on services and infrastructure.
Any of these options would be likely to be phased in over five years.