Maria Caulfield Monthly Column: Unitary Authority could save time and money

There is money in our local Councils to pay for vital services but it is tied up in bureaurcracy. Read my latest column on why moving to a unitary system would provide £2.9 billion for public services:

 

How our local public services, such as schools and day centres are funded, is a key concern for local residents.

In East Sussex we have for decades seen our local government services significantly less funded by as much as 50% less per head of population, than urban areas like our neighbours in Brighton and Hove.

Since becoming an MP I have lobbied the Government for fairer funding of our local councils such as Lewes District or East Sussex County Council given that we have the largest population of over 85’s in the country and residents living in both urban and rural authorities require the same services. It is an imbalance that I have sought to change.

In order to ensure that going forward residents are able to receive a high standard of service from councils, whether it be housing, roads, social care or schooling more needs to be done. While we have been successful as local MPs in getting more funding for the County with an 8% increase in school funding across Lewes,  we need to look at how best to ensure financial stability and I believe that this is best done by the formation of unitary authorities.

Across East Sussex we have what is called a three tier system of local Government with town, district and County councils all delivering local services to the same people but all working in organisations that currently require separate buildings, front line staff, chief executives, senior staff and resources. In many parts of my constituency residents elect Town Councillors, District Councillors and County Councillors, yet many residents do not know which Council is responsible for what. The cost of the separate elections alone runs into several thousands of pounds.

A Unitary authority instead would combine all our local councils together and would allow residents to elect a single group of Councillors to represent them on a single Council who would deal with all local issues.

The immediate saving in this would be the cost of premises and senior staff. In East Sussex there are eleven Town Councils, five District Councils and the County Council. With the exception of Eastbourne and Lewes now combining their senior staff, the Districts and County all have separate Chief Executives and senior staff many of whom are earning six figure sums of money. Even on the Town Councils the clerks can earn over £50,000. This could be brought down to a single senior leadership team for a unitary authority.

The County Council Network suggests creating 27 unitary authorities in England would save £2.9 billion . The LGA estimate that the current funding gap for social care is £2.3 billion a year.

Having a single unitary authority is not just about saving money but saving time, stopping the duplication of services and efforts, and about ease of use for residents. In Brighton and Hove City Council, where I was a Councillor before becoming an MP, the residents elect Councillors in the knowledge that they can deal with any local issue. In East Sussex residents must ask themselves “do I contact my Town Councillor, my District Councillor, or my County Councillor?”

I believe that the case for unitary authorities is strong and it is something that the Government has also shown support in. The idea may be difficult for some councillors and senior staff to promote, given the reduction in their numbers under unitary authorities but for our residents it is the right thing to do.