The possibility of merging all of Derbyshire’s district and borough councils into one “super authority” – saving households up to £100 in council tax – “can’t ever be ruled out” says the county’s leader.
In the past year, talks have been held in two of Derbyshire’s neighbouring counties, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, to form “super authorities” or unitary councils – much like Derby and Nottingham themselves.
These councils would be the first and only port of call for all services and would be where the majority of council tax payments would go (apart from the portions directed towards the police and fire service).
At the moment, services outside of Derby are divided between the county and district and borough councils – and a number of parish councils. This sees, for instance, Amber Valley Borough Council carrying out bin collections, but Derbyshire County Council responsible for gritting roads and potholes.
Meanwhile, district and borough authorities take in around 10 per cent of each year’s council tax bill, with around 75 per cent going to the county. The rest is divided between the fire and police services.
A merger of the district, borough and county councils would see thousands of staff and hundreds of councillors at risk of losing their jobs. The number of councillors in particular would likely be drastically reduced and a new election held to appoint members to the new authority.
It is thought that a merger saves councils money, largely by cutting down on duplication. For instance, Leicestershire County Council aims to save the taxpayers at least £30 million a year through its proposals. Its leader, Cllr Nick Rushton, says that council tax bills could fall through merging into a unitary authority by between £50 and £100.
Leader of Derbyshire County Council, Barry Lewis, has now said: “What we need in Derbyshire is for the relationship between us and the boroughs and districts to work closely and collectively. We can’t ever rule out the possibility (of a unitary authority), I’ve always thought this. If central government comes to us and says that we should have one then we would have to look into it, and they may request that of us. But we need clear lines of communication between us and the other councils to ensure that we are all on the same page and want it. You may have seen the situation in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, and we don’t want that, we don’t want to be breaking down and throwing buns at each other.”
There are currently 64 county councillors in Derbyshire and 348 district and borough councils – with some holding spots on two authorities. To compare, the 55 county councillors and 326 district councillor seats in Leicestershire are to be reduced to 110 members.
As it stands, Cllr Lewis, has been forging ahead with a “Strategic Alliance” between several of the county and city councils in the East Midlands – agreed by full council in September. This falls short of a super council or combined authority. It includes Derbyshire County Council, Derby City Council, Leicestershire County Council, Leicester City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, Nottingham City Council and Lincolnshire County Council.
This alliance is to largely focus on drawing more investment to the region for transport and infrastructure improvements.
Early discussions about local government reorganisation in Derbyshire last year had found widespread concern.
The leader of Derbyshire Dales District Council, Cllr Lewis Rose, had said that the move would be “strongly resisted”.
Meanwhile Chesterfield Borough Council leader, Cllr Tricia Gilby, said that she was “disappointed” to have been left out of early talks.
The county council’s opposition leader, Cllr Anne Western had said that plans to merge the county with the district and borough councils would be “strongly opposed”.
However, leader of Amber Valley Borough Council, Cllr Kevin Buttery, who is also a county councillor, had said that he would support any local government reform which would improve effectiveness and efficiency, whether that is a “super council”, “strategic alliance”, or a combined authority.