Up to 200 politicians could lose their jobs if Bucks’ four district councils are scrapped in favour of one single county-wide authority.
That is according to a report examining the case for local government reorganisation in Bucks, which identifies overall savings of up to £20.7m a year – and a reduction in council tax of 1% – should Bucks go unitary.
Cutting the 248-strong army of district and county councillors to between 50 to 90 would save £1.3m a year in allowances and travel expenses, while reducing the number of elections would save up to £800,000 every four years.
There would also be a huge reduction in the single council’s wage bill.
The number of highly-paid senior managers would be slashed by about half, saving £3m, while up to 271 full-time equivalent roles across the five councils would be made redundant.
The report says these job losses would be the result of ‘corporate service rationalisation’ (saving nearly £8m) and ‘service optimisation’ (saving nearly £7m) – essentially removing duplicated roles and creating economies of scale in departments such as IT and HR.
The reduction in the amount of office space needed could also deliver up to £1m in savings.
However, the positives resulting from a more streamlined structure aren’t just financial ones.
Indeed, the report commissioned by Bucks Business First says a unitary council would result in more joined up thinking on issues such as housing and economic planning, give it greater bargaining power and boost democratic accountability.
It says moving from two-tier to one-tier of local government would reduce the ‘confusion’ the public has over who does what service and get rid of the unhelpful rivalry councils sometimes show towards eachother.
The role of lower level parish and town councils would also be strenghtened, potentially providing a ‘huge boost for localsim as it would greatly enhance the role and standing of parish and town councils and enable the unitary body to engage much more clearly and directly with them’.
It says some of the savings could be used to support the ‘growth of a much stronger network of community focused councils than currently exists’.
The report looked at four options for reorganising the council structure in Bucks. Creating just one unitary authority would cost £11m to implement, but its annual savings of £20m would mean this would be paid back in less than two years. This option has ‘the potential to deliver the greatest level of financial savings’.
The other three options are splitting Bucks into two north/south unitary councils, having just one county and one district council and involving existing district councils from neighbouring counties to join the north/south model.
The two unitaries model would save around £11m and ‘produce a higher councillor to resident ratio which could be seen to enhance democratic representation’. Having one district and county council would save £12.8m and ‘could create less service disruption’ but there would be ‘considerable drawbacks in terms of democratic representation’ as ‘it could prove extremely confusing’.
The out of county option would save £11m but would be overly ‘complex’ to negotiate and have its own democratic challenges.