A vision has emerged this afternoon (Friday) of what living in Melton will be like if the borough council is abolished and a single unitary authority takes over every local government service in Leicestershire.
County Hall leader, Councillor Nick Rushton, announced in the summer that he wanted to see a single council replacing the current two-tier system of Leicestershire County Council and seven district councils.
And the county council has today produced a detaied report into the proposals in which it is stated that a unitary council would save the tax-payer £30million by consolidating services through one authority.
The document says a single council would also eradicate confusion for Leicestershire’s 690,000 residents, pointing out that the county council recorded more than 130,000 web visits last year where someone was confused by what each council was responsible for and that 11,000 out of 200,000 calls to the county’s customer service centre had to be redirected to district councils.
Proposals in the report suggest that a new unitary authority would have 110 elected councillors, meaning there would be 199 fewer councillors across Leicestershire.
Unitary councillors would take on more responsibilities, according to the proposals, with those elected for Melton borough, for example, overseeing a local budget to support community projects and sitting on ‘local area committees’, which would also manage issues such as planning and development control.
Fewer management and back office staff would be needed for one council which might mean Melton Council’s Parkside offices could be surplus to requirements.
Although the report does state that ‘Direct services to the public would be provided through reduced, fully colocated service hubs in the localities tailored to the needs of the community’, and that the creation of a town council would also be an option.
It also indicates that parish councils in the Melton borough might be granted more responsibility in a new one-tier set-up.
Today’s report outlines the financial challenges facing councils and assesses potential different unitary structures.
The county council has saved £200million since 2010 because of funding shortfalls and it is estimated that a further £62million in savings needs to be found by the county and district councils up to 2022.
Councillor Rushton, said: “The financial situation facing councils is bleak. And with service demands and national funding reductions ramping up, it’s clear we have to consider change.
“Across Leicestershire, local government is facing millions of pounds of savings, meaning we simply can’t go on paying for old fashioned bureaucracy and duplication.
“The time is right to explore the possible solutions to save money and join up services – this has to be about services for residents, not structures.”
He added: “The cabinet report shows there is a strong case for a single unitary council but also assesses a two-council option.
“As I have said all along, I hope the district councils will put forward options themselves and I am pleased that they all now recognise that change is required.
“This would be the biggest shake-up locally for almost 50 years.
“And that means working together with councillors and other stakeholders to draw up a new structure, fit for the 21st century, and I look forward to hearing their views.”
Now, the county council plans to engage with MPs, district councils, parish and town councils, businesses, universities, the voluntary sector and other stakeholders.
A cross-party working group - to provide advice, challenge and feedback on proposals and next steps – is being set up and is due to feedback to cabinet next spring.
Dependent on the outcome of this engagement, a public consultation could follow in the summer.
Today’s report will be considered by County Hall’s cabinet on October 16 – go online at www.leicestershire.gov.uk/webcast to watch that meeting take place.
Following the release of the County Hall report, the leaders of all seven district councils said in a joint-statement they had unanimously agreed to continue working together to review the current model of local government in Leicestershire.
The leaders of Blaby, Charnwood, Melton, Oadby and Wigston, North West Leicestershire, Harborough and Hinckley and Bosworth councils, commented: “The district councils are continuing to work together to look at future service delivery in Leicestershire to ensure it is lean, effective and in touch with residents.
“Any potential changes need to be based on a thorough assessment of all options and backed by evidence and communities.
“The district councils will ensure residents, partners and stakeholders are involved in the conversation and fully consulted.
“The needs of our residents will be put first.”