Thursday 18 April 2024
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Leaked ‘Levelling Up’ document suggests borough and district councils could be scrapped

Nottinghamshire’s district and borough councils could be scrapped after a leaked Whitehall report suggested plans for a local government ‘levelling up’ overhaul.

A report by The Independent said the Government plans to “radically alter” the structure of local government in England, replacing it with a single-tier, mayoral style system.

At present, most counties like Nottinghamshire are governed under a two-tier system, with district or borough authorities and county councils sharing the provision of services.

If the plans went ahead, however, it could see Nottinghamshire county’s eight councils scrapped and replaced with one, single authority.

The reports come as part of an alleged leaked draft of the Government’s ‘Levelling Up White Paper’, due to come out in the new year, which was seen by the newspaper.

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The Independent reports Whitehall plans for a “new devolution framework for England” that would strip back layers of local government and replace them with the single-tier system.

Unsuccessful attempts for similar changes have been made in Nottinghamshire in recent years, with former county council leader Kay Cutts (Con) keen on the plans.

Supporters of the changes say the current system “no longer serves the interests of residents and taxpayers”, with Ms Cutts previously describing having eight Nottinghamshire authorities as “wasteful and confusing”.

But the proposals, which could have led to what many described as a Nottinghamshire ‘super-council’, were unanimously opposed by district and borough leaders and described as “undemocratic”.

Objectors feared local decision-making could be taken away from communities under the plans and also lead to job losses across the eight Nottinghamshire authorities.

If the reported Government plans came to fruition, however, the overhaul could be enforced across England as Whitehall seeks “coherent local institutions”.

It comes as Nottingham and Nottinghamshire councils unite to seek a devolution deal from Whitehall, aimed at bringing more decision-making powers and funding from Government on major policy issues.

Numerous meetings have been held between council leaders and a vision for the devolution package has already been set.

Councillor Ben Bradley (Con), the county council leader and spearhead of the campaign, has repeatedly stressed local government reorganisation does not form part of the devolution bid.

But the reports have led to concern from Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of Ashfield District Council, who has written to Cllr Bradley for assurances.

Cllr Zadrozny told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Ben Bradley has put his reputation on the line and promised there are no Government plans to scrap councils like Ashfield, Broxtowe and Rushcliffe.

“It appears leaked plans from Government fly in the face of what he is telling people, including members of his own Conservative Party.

“This bad news could extend to multiple job losses and change our way of life forever.

“I have written to Ben asking for urgent clarification and sought an assurance he will keep his word and fight to save the local councils residents hold so dear.”

Responding to the concerns, Cllr Bradley told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the first he had heard of the proposal was in the media on Friday (December 10).

He stressed councils across Nottinghamshire are enjoying a “very positive relationship” working towards a devolution deal and said the public should wait for the publication of the upcoming white paper.

He said: “Councils across Nottinghamshire have enjoyed a very positive relationship over recent months, working on plans to collaborate on services and push for more powers from Whitehall.

“We’ve never raised reorganisation, and we’ve never requested it.

“There’s no reason that should change based on rumours. Like everyone else, we need to wait and see what is in the Levelling Up White Paper in the new year.”

He added the Nottinghamshire devolution plan has already been published and people can “see what’s in it”, with no suggestions of a local government overhaul.

And he said he has “no idea” whether the leaked reports are an actual part of Government plans and Nottinghamshire leaders will “carry on until someone tells us otherwise”.

The Independent’s report suggests the Government wants to have the changes underway by 2023 in order to coincide with new funding measures for regions.

It reports a new Local Growth Funding Roadmap – detailing how this will work – is due for release next year before being enforced in 2023.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment when approached by The Independent.

But a spokesperson said: “We do not comment on leaks. Work is progressing well on the Levelling Up White Paper, which will be published in January.”

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