Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Why the end may be nigh for all remaining British county councils

Lincolnshire has just become the next English county to propose 'unitarisation' (abolition of existing districts and creating one or more unitary authorities in its place, also being proposed by Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, and possibly other counties as well). This is mainly being done for financial reasons, however (some county councils are losing all central government funding), rather than ease of governance, and is part of a growing trend that could see the end of the two-tier system of local governance England has had since 1974.

I nevertheless believe the remaining county councils in Britain (including the one where I live, Hertfordshire) should be abolished, irrespective of funding or lack thereof. Why?

Increasing suburbanisation of Britain and the corresponding expansion of many urban areas means that many cities and towns have boundaries that are 20 years out of date at this time of writing, and have effectively absorbed large parts of their existing counties. Half of the population of Nottinghamshire, for example, lives either in the city of Nottingham itself or towns that can arguably considered to be suburbs of said city of Nottingham. Cambridge has effectively absorbed many Cambridgeshire villages (e.g. Girton, Shelford) surrounding it in the same way the City of York did with villages like Haxby (although in York's case, its boundaries were changed to accommodate this expansion but Cambridge's city boundaries still have not been). Particularly in large counties, county councils have overall not been as effective or fair in administering public transport and trying to maintain services as unitary authorities have been, and as we need more and more decisions at more localised levels, county councils are no longer necessary. Local government in Scotland and Wales only has one tier anyway, and would work better with more financial devolution.

Smaller unitary authorities, and only one tier (two-tier when town and parish councils exist in a particular area) of government will make administration easier as well as more suited to community interests, provided sufficient funding and fair powers to raise funds and control services are given to those councils. This is a better type of devolution-not the 'regional mayor' devolution large portions of England have been given, particularly since many places rejected the mayoral idea and when they are too large for one person to exercise control over efficiently.

1 comment:

  1. I largely agree a local government reform is due.- As you correctly point out Greater Nottingham versus the actual Nottingham City Council area are entirely different with Broxtowe and Gedling being virtually boroughs of the city, along with Erewash which by virtue of historic county lines sits in Derbyshire. - Only Ashfield and Rushcliffe have significant detachment from the city. This set of separate boroughs tend to mean that city like Nottingham are perceived by government, and potential investors as being smaller than they actually are. Speaking of multi tier county, district, parish systems - I have often though larger rural authorities are often better a simpler two tier authority. - I look at modern Wiltshire which was split from a multi tier to 2 unitary authories. The old borough of Thamesdown becoming Swindon Council and taking on former County Council functions while Wiltshire became a Unitary county with the old district functions given to the new Wiltshire Council or Parish/Town councils like Salisbury City Council which became community councils. I often feel a larger county like Devon or North Yorkshire should follow this lead since residents and businesses in on side of the council area often have little interaction with other sides of the county and so the community councils should have more say on local matters under a generic framework. - I can't see how the proposed regional mayor shared with Somerset, Torbay, Devon & Plymouth would work since the needs of Exmoor and Plymouth are very different.