'Nick Boles wrong about two tiers - but unitary authority would save £30m'
Column by leader of Lincolnshire County Council Martin Hill
I was more than a little surprised to see the Nick Boles article in this paper last week about moving towards unitary councils instead of the current two-tier system of county and district councils which we currently have.
Not only does such a change require the consent of parliament – which seems unlikely in the currently dysfunctional Westminster – but ministers have indicated that they would only support a new model if there was local consensus and that is currently not the case in Lincolnshire.
So, we probably need to treat Nick’s intervention as an interesting theoretical thesis, which I shall respond to in kind.
There always have been compelling arguments to consider a change to the structure of local government in Lincolnshire in the same way that it has happened in other rural parts of the country.
There has been substantial research, as well as the experience of those areas who have gone unitary, which proves Nick is wrong in most of his statements.
Efficiency data shows that if you replace the current county and district councils with any more than two unitary councils, there would be no savings to speak of, so why bother with the expense and disruption? However, a different matter would be a single unitary council, which would save about £30 million every year in efficiency savings alone.
In terms of bureaucracy, the average county council in England spends about four per cent of it its resources on running itself – for districts it is nearer 20 per cent. That is not a criticism of district councils but is a direct effect of the economies of scale of larger councils.
And Nick’s criticism that county councils are remote is far from the truth. They are responsible for delivering some of the most personal care services to those who can’t look after themselves, support vulnerable adults and children and provide services they are most needed; whether it be a house fire, safe roads to travel on or transporting 100,000 pupils to school every day.
Having set the record straight, I would like to assure readers that back in the real world the leaders of all councils in Lincolnshire are committed to work together in a pragmatic way for the benefit of all our residents which is just what we were elected to do.