Stroud Constituency Labour Party has long campaigned for the 7 Gloucestershire Councils to be reduced to 2 unitary Councils - West Gloucestershire (Stroud, Gloucester and Forest of Dean areas) and East Gloucestershire (Cotswold, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury).
In 2006 the County Labour party proposed that a more sensible method for council reform within Gloucestershire would be to form a unitary council (or councils) for the county. The proposal concluded that changing to a new system of local government would provide substantial savings for council taxpayers, while providing significant opportunities for improved service delivery and enhanced accountability for local people and communities.
The Chief Executive of Wiltshire [unitary] Council has stated that cuts to expenditure ‘would have been much more difficult with four district councils and a county council’ [in Wiltshire]. It is very probable that considerably more progress would have been achieved on cross district topics in Gloucestershire, such as waste collection and disposal in the county, if there had been a unitary authority.
Gloucestershire’s neighbours, Hereford, Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire are already unitary councils; the number of electors per councillor in these councils is in the range 2500 – 3500.
At district and county level in Gloucestershire the electorate is represented by 319 councillors (63 county, 236 district, city and borough). Within a unitary authority with say 3500 electors per councillor there would be 134 councillors for the whole county. Taking councillor allowances alone (assuming £4500/year for a district councillor’s allowances) and £8000 for a county councillors), a reduction could be made of
£(236x4500 – 71x8000) = £494,000/year. (at least, assuming unitary authority councillors received the same allowances as current county councillors).
On costs grounds alone, this one benefit provides 6 times the savings proposed by current Tory proposals to reduce the number of county councillors by ten, and the change to unitary would lead to more coherent and co-ordinated local government in Gloucestershire.
A change to a unitary authority would have to be accompanied by proposals to devolve powers and budgets to town and parish councils, with a stronger role for the local unitary councillor, area boards, and easier procedures for collaboration or even mergers between parish councils.