Nottinghamshire County Council has produced this FAQ document with other reports as it considers a unitary authority for the county.
What is a unitary authority?
‘Nottinghamshire currently operates on a two-tier structure. A two-tier structure is where some local authority services are provided by the county council and other services by the borough or district councils within the same area it serves. If Nottinghamshire changed to a system of unitary local government it would have a simpler single-tier structure, where there is just one local council responsible for all local government services in the area it covers. All local authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland operate as unitary councils, as do some 55 authorities in England, such as Cornwall, Northumberland and Wiltshire County Councils.’
Why the change?
‘The current two-tier structure for Local Government is both wasteful and confusing. Having eight separate council headquarters, executives, senior managers, and some duplicated back-office functions is unnecessary and costs too much. A unitary system of local government would end this duplication and waste – and free up money to be spent on improving services.’
‘In a two-tier system you face the confusion of working out which council or councillor you need to contact about which service. With only one Council providing all local government services in an area, residents and all our local and regional partners would find it simpler to contact the Council and get things done more quickly.’
‘Unitary local government for Nottinghamshire is the logical option. It is better, simpler and saves money.’
‘We can’t go on with the current level of waste and inefficiency. Councils have faced many years of financial difficulties and we need to find ways of spending less without reducing services. It is even more important that we do it now because COVID-19 has made the financial circumstances of councils in Nottinghamshire worse. We must find ways of making our money go further, so reducing duplication and waste through unitary local government just makes sense.’
‘The government wants to devolve more power and money to regions. It is expected that they will do this through Combined Authorities where several councils collaborate and make joint decisions. Nottinghamshire needs this investment for things like infrastructure, skills, transport and housing, particularly as we recover from the impact of COVID-19. It is expected that only unitary authorities will be able to be part of a Combined Authority – we don’t want Nottinghamshire to miss out and get left behind!’
How much will it save?
‘When the Outline Case for Change was developed in 2018, changing to a unitary system of local government in Nottinghamshire was projected to annually save up to £27m. This figure is being checked as we update our proposals for 2020, but other two-tier areas that have become unitaries such as Wiltshire, Northumberland and Cornwall have achieved similar amounts.’
How does the County Council currently spend its money?
The County Council currently spends its money as follows:
- Adult Social Care and Public Health: £363m
- Children and Young People: £178.8m
- Schools: £339.5m
- Community and place services: £185.6m
- Running the Council: £9.2m
What will it mean for me and my community?
‘Unitary local government would provide several benefits for individuals and local communities. This includes removing the confusion of having different councils for different public services and replacing it with one council in an area who can support communities with all their concerns.’
‘Because it will cost less, it is more likely that the services that you need will continue, as the savings we need to make can be found by reducing duplication and waste rather than cutting services.’
‘A system of unitary local government in Nottinghamshire will be designed to strengthen and protect community identities and give people the opportunity to shape the place where they live. In areas that have already become unitary authorities the role of parish and town councils has been strengthened, meaning people can have more say on decisions which affect them and their local communities.’
How do larger authorities understand the needs of local communities?
‘Larger authorities are able to achieve more economies of scale, so that more money can be used to improve services. They also have a more powerful voice to negotiate with partners and government to get a better deal for their area.
‘But unitary authorities aren’t distant. Unitary authorities are embedded in communities through libraries, registration offices, community centres, leisure centres, housing offices and other council offices which means they can keep in touch with what local communities need.’
What options will Notts CC consider?
‘When we prepared the Outline Case for Change in 2018 we looked at five different options for creating unitary authorities of different shapes and sizes in Nottinghamshire. At that time we concluded that a single unitary authority for the whole county was the option that had the most benefits for residents and was the most cost-effective. When we prepare the proposals to submit to government in autumn 2020, we will revisit the options to check which option works best for Nottinghamshire now.’
Will the proposals for Nottinghamshire affect Nottingham City Council?
‘No, the proposals do not affect the City Council’s administrative area.’
Who decides whether or not the change will happen?
‘The Government will make the final decision. The Government tests the proposals for unitary local government by checking the proposals create councils that will be the right size, have got local support and will make local government better. The proposals that we are developing will show how the preferred option for Nottinghamshire will pass these tests.’
Who is writing the proposals for the unitary authority?
‘The proposals are being written by County Council officers. They are taking into consideration wider research that has been done on the case for unitary authorities and talking to other key stakeholders, such as businesses and health partners.’
‘An independent social research company has been commissioned to undertake engagement with residents to collect their views and provide an independent analysis of the findings. An independent accountancy firm will verify the financial information in the proposals.’
Why are they doing this when they should be focused on COVID-19?
‘Protecting communities for COVID-19 is our top priority and Nottinghamshire County Council continues to work daily with all tiers of local government and our partners to keep people safe. But we must also look ahead. This means making the most of the opportunities that can make local government in Nottinghamshire more resilient and help the county recover. The government is expected to encourage more unitary authorities that are more cost-effective and with it more devolution through combined authorities that will help with recovery. We need to make sure that Nottinghamshire doesn’t miss out.’
What happens next?
‘On 16 September 2020 the Council will consider a report to ask the Secretary of State to invite Nottinghamshire County Council to submit proposals for unitary local government. If approved the Council will formally request the invite and if agreed will prepare and submit its proposals in autumn 2020.’
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