Ambitious moves to abolish Melton County and Leicestershire County Council and replace them with a single unitary authority has met with a mixed response from the four councillors who serve on both.
Councillor Alan Pearson fears the change will be bad for the Melton borough and take away the local voice while Councillor Byron Rhodes says a two-tier system of local government is outmoded and that 123 out of 150 areas in England had successfully moved to unitary council status.
Both Councillor Pam Posnett and Councillor Joe Orson, who is also borough council leader, say they remain unconvinced until more details emerge and there has been a full public consultation.
Councillor Rhodes, who is borough ward member for Long Clawson and Stathern and county representative for Belvoir division, pointed out that 10 county councils converted to single council status nine years ago and he told the Melton Times: “When I talk to people in those counties they say they would not go back to the previous two-tier system.
“So I have come to the conclusion that this is an option for Leicestershire that has to be seriously discussed and debated.
“The detailed arguments for and against will come out in those discussions and debates.
“At the present time I hope people will be prepared to take an interest and take part.”
Councillor Pearson, who represents the borough’s Melton Dorian ward and Melton West for the county, is set against the idea.
He said: “Bigger is not always best.
“Having a larger unitary council and fewer councillors will create an undemocratic authority far removed from the Melton community.
“Look what happened with the children’s centres.
“Forty years of academic research indicate that having a bigger council is no guarantee to improvements in performance, service delivery and cost saving. “In fact it has a negative impact on local democracy.”
Councillor Posnett, borough member for Melton Newport, said it was essential that a thorough consultation was made before any decision is made.
The county representative for Melton East told the Melton Times: “Looking around the country, several councils have made the change but that does not mean it is right for us.
“It is important we look at what is right for Melton and we need to listen to the views of our residents.
“We would want to make sure that we had proper representatives in our borough.”
We reported last week how Councillor Orson had expressed concerns about the potential loss of services and resources from Melton if the county was ruled by a Leicester-based authority.
The borough member for Old Dalby and county representative for Melton Wolds said it was important that Melton residents had their say on the proposals and commented: “My first reaction is concern that this will make services more remote, take resources and focus away from Melton, and be a big distraction and a costly exercise.
“Naturally, however, when we receive more information we will review further to understand the impact on Melton and its residents.”
County council leader Nick Rushton is leading the drive to establish a unitary authority, which would take over all local government responsibilities because he says it will be more cost-effective and save the tax-payer £30million a year.
We reported last week that Melton MP Sir Alan Duncan was vehemently against the idea, saying it would be bad for local democracy in the borough.
But Councillor Rushton is pressing ahead with the plan with initial proposals to be finalised over the summer ahead of a November consultation, which will involve residents, district councils, businesses, MPs and other relevant parties.
A full public consultation on more detailed proposals is then planned for early next year.
Friday’s county council cabinet meeting saw discussions and approval of a report about next steps and timings.
Officers will also now work with east midlands colleagues to develop plans for a strategic alliance for the region.
Councillor Rushton added: “We now need to spend time exploring and working up more detailed options for the structure of local government in Leicestershire, drawing on research and the experiences of other councils.
“Seeking the views of residents, district councils, MPs, businesses, universities and others is key and I look forward to a constructive and informed debate.”