DERBYSHIRE: ‘Open mind’ on plan to scrap councils across the county

Barry Lewis
Barry Lewis

Derbyshire’s county council leader has said “we must all have an open mind” on plans to reform local government, which could see the scrapping of district and borough councils which employ thousands of people.

This comes after the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, Cllr Kay Cutts, said that scrapping the lower tier of councils would be a good way to “pool resources” to cope with funding pressures.

But Derbyshire County Council leader,  Cllr Barry Lewis, favours a less drastic “strategic alliance” of seven East Midlands councils – the cities of Derby, Nottingham and Leicester and the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

Cllr Cutts has said she would like all these authorities combined into a “super council” running all services – from education to roads, planning and rubbish collection and disposal. She has suggested district councils, which currently run some of these services, could be scrapped.

But Mr Lewis sees only authorities working more closely and with devolved powers to improve the region.

He states that this would not be a “super council” – a phrase which has often be mooted in relation to the plans, including by Conservative county councillors.

Cllr Lewis said: “Our approach at Derbyshire is focused on a strategic alliance, bringing together all the upper tier authorities and strategic partners to work more collaboratively, to share experience and services, strengthen regional identity and deliver efficient public services for the 4.5 million residents of the region.

“I obviously do not want to comment on approaches taken by other upper tier local authorities with regard to districts and boroughs at this time as it is for them to decide but can only say we must all have, at all levels, an open mind as to what the future of local government may look like to deliver more cost-efficient services for residents.

“To be clear, a strategic alliance is not a combined authority or super council but does bring us closer to some of those devolved powers that we need to deliver growth opportunities for the East Midlands and its residents as part of a stronger Midlands Engine.”

In April, plans emerged for the new partnership, which would be formed to counteract the power of the West Midlands and compete with the “Northern Powerhouse” of authorities.

The aim is to form an organisation to counteract the “weight and clout” of the West Midlands Combined Authority – formed last May and led by its mayor Andy Street.

In May, the leader of Derbyshire Dales District Council, Cllr Lewis Rose, lashed out at the idea that talks which could see his authority scrapped had been conducted behind closed doors.

He was unavailable for comment today, but said in May: “You can be assured that I have not taken this lying down and I have made it clear to those who ought to know better that this is a very unhelpful and counter-productive way to proceed.

“The thought that we could end up with a unitary county with or without Derby City is, in my view, ridiculous – but it is one we have to take seriously.

“At the moment, the counties and unitaries are keeping all the discussions to themselves and will let us know in due course how they are getting on. I have made it clear and will continue to make it clear that this is not good enough.

“I have also said in principle we will look at any proposal for a combined authority which brings more power and money to the area in a constructive way, provided that no reorganisation is involved and the districts are fully engaged and are part of the process.”

Pictures:

Derbyshire County Council leader Cllr Barry Lewis

Nottinghamshire County Council HQ

Derbyshire County Council HQ

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service