“Lack of government lawyers [due to Brexit work] delaying preparations for council merger”

“A lack of government lawyers as a result of Brexit is to blame for delays in producing the necessary orders for a merger of two local authorities in the South West of England, it has been claimed.

The County Gazette has reported that three orders from central government are needed to transfer all the necessary legal powers to the authority that will take over from Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council.

An apppendix to a paper presented at a meeting of Taunton Deane’s scrutiny committee last week said: “Still waiting on MHCLG [the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government] finalising – Brexit impacting on MHCLG’s ability to access lawyers in a timely fashion.

“As long as final version is very similar to draft sould not cause too great an issue. The uncertainty is the concern however.”

The appendix said a general order had been due to be published on 24 July this year.

The merger of Taunton Deane and West Somerset was backed in March by the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid.”

Source: Local Government Lawyer

Dis-unitisation: Bankrupt Tory council splits in two

Owl says: do debts go 50/50?

“Stricken Northamptonshire County Council has voted to abolish itself in the first of a series of meetings due this week to settle the authority’s fate.
Councillors backed the proposal to replace the county and its districts with two new unitary councils. These would be North Northamptonshire, covering Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough, and West Northamptonshire comprising Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire.

Each district has a meeting due this week to vote on the proposal, which will then go to communities secretary James Brokenshire.

A report to the county council noted that Max Caller, the inspector appointed to report to the government on Northamptonshire’s financial plight, had said: “The problems faced by NCC are now so deep and ingrained that it is not possible to promote a recovery plan that could bring the council back to stability and safety in a reasonable timescale” and that a unitary reorganisation should follow.

This week’s report said: “The county, borough and district councils are making this [unitary] proposal – not out of a positive ambition for this radical structural change, but instead out of a pragmatic and responsible approach to the Government’s clearly-signalled direction of travel.” It warned too that unitary reorganisation would not in itself solve the county’s financial problems.

“There is currently a very significant imbalance between revenue income and expenditure at NCC, and this will have an impact on sustainability of the new unitaries if the current financial position is inherited by them in 2020-21,” it said.

“It is essential that NCC delivers a balanced revenue position and sustainable services that can be inherited from day one. “

Northamptonshire in July took the rare step of issuing a second section 114 notice to limit spending.

The government in May imposed commissioners to run parts of the council after Mr Caller’s report highlighted serious flaws in its operation.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36537%3Anorthamptonshire-councillors-vote-for-plan-to-split-county-into-unitaries&catid=59&Itemid=27

Two unitary Devon areas – the case against weakens

DCC leader John Hart has gone on record as saying two unitary councils for two different parts of Devon can never happen, since however you split the county there would always be a poorer authority and a richer one.

Owl has challenged this idea citing “Greater Exeter” as a quasi-unitary authority by stealth already.

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/05/18/is-one-devon-unitary-council-being-created-by-stealth/

However, Dorset has just been split in two with two councils with very different profiles: a largely income-rich urban east and a more rural west.

It seems (after the Torbay debacle and continuing austerity cuts) that ALL councils are now poor, so does his argument still hold water – or is it now a leaky bucket?

Would a change result in savings that could go to front-line services? If so, what is the rationale for the status-quo?

Well, of course, it would mean fewer councillors …..!

“High Court dismisses legal challenge to local government reorganisation in Dorset”

Owl says: Christchurch – wealthy, elderly Tories with high-value properties and the notorious ultra-right wing MP “Sir” (earned for nothing) Christopher Chope – the guy who killed the upskirting bill, killed the bill to protect police dogs, tried to stop the minimum wage, stopped a bill to give carers free parking at hospitals, etc. etc. Presumably, they didn’t want to subsidise the “oiks” in neighbouring Bournemouth and Poole!!!

“Under the proposals, backed by former Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, Christchurch is due to become part of a new unitary through a merger with Bournemouth and Poole councils.

Another ‘rural’ unitary would be established from East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland. The county council would cease to exist.

Christchurch had argued that the Secretary of State acted beyond his powers in passing the legislation to allow the reorganisation to go ahead.
The judicial review challenge was heard in the High Court on 30 July.
Cllr David Flagg, Leader of the Council, Christchurch Borough Council, said: “We are disappointed by today’s judgement. We have been advised that a number of points set out in the judgment are still arguable in law and therefore we will be responding to the judge on these. Depending on his response we will consider whether an appeal to the Court of Appeal would be appropriate or not.”

A statement issued on behalf of Bournemouth Borough Council, Dorset County Council, Borough of Poole, East Dorset District Council, North Dorset District Council, Purbeck District Council, West Dorset District Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council said they were “delighted but unsurprised” by the judgment.

It added: “A huge amount of work has already been undertaken, and we are making excellent progress towards creating the two new councils. Christchurch Borough councillors and their officers have always been welcome at the various meetings that have taken place, working to form the two new councils.

“We respect the choice of Christchurch Borough Council to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision, through a judicial review on a procedural point of law. In doing so, we note that the validity of the case for creating two new councils was not the basis for this judicial review challenge.

“Christchurch Borough Council has spent a very significant amount of council tax payers’ money in pursuing this legal action. The High Court has rejected that challenge and we hope that all Christchurch Borough Councillors will now accept that judgment, and fully take part in planning for and making decisions about the new council.”

The statement continued: “We are optimistic this matter is now behind us, and we can look forward to working together to create the best new local councils we can, to protect public services as much as possible, and to secure future growth and prosperity for our areas.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36287%3Ahigh-court-dismisses-legal-challenge-to-local-government-reorganisation-in-dorset&catid=59&Itemid=27

Torbay unitary runs out of money – wants to be returned as a district to DCC

So the elected mayor experiment failed and Torquay is attempting to rejoin DCC with its tail between its legs.

The mayor caused major controversies, here are a few highlights:

The Tory council majority split and split again:
https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/three-torbay-tory-rebels-sent-886395
and
https://www.devonlive.com/news/three-more-torbay-tories-walk-712029

The mayor bought up a shopping centre in Bournemouth, an office building in Exeter, a business park in Torquay:
https://www.devonlive.com/news/local-news/row-torbay-council-buys-tesco-292274

He lost a no confidence vote but refused to resign:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-40682962

A referendum decided that the mayoral system was not wanted so the council was going to revert to a cabinet system:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2016-36241115

and now he says the council has run out of money:

“Torbay went it alone in 1998 but it has now taken the first steps back to Devon County Council being responsible for running the threatened services.

Mr Oliver said: “We cannot survive as we are beyond this next financial year. There is no money. …

“We have got two years. Whoever wins the election in May 2019, this has to be an all-party solution. “The lack of money will drive economies of scale. Local authorities will have to work in partnership. “Some of them are just too small as they are. “There are 10 chief executives in Devon and 10 financial officers. …

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/torquays-seafront-not-protected-high-668592

National parks and Devon unitaries – an intriguing solution

Councillor John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council appeared recently on BBC Spotlight, and explained that Devon was unlikely to become a Unitary Authority, because its population, at nearly 800,000, was greater than the Government’s preferred size for a Unitary, which is between 300,000 and 500,000. He may be right: Devon might be too big.

Meanwhile Michael Gove, Minister for the Environment, announces that he is to conduct a national review of National Parks, and says he is keen to create new ones.

Is there an opportunity here to kill two birds with one stone?

The Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks already exist, and there are proposals for a Dorset and East Devon National Park, and a South Hams National Park. Were these National Parks to be created, and significant powers handed over to them, the rest of Devon’s population would be significantly reduced.

There is also the Tamar Valley AONB and the Blackdown Hills AONB, which could be incorporated into an expanded Dartmoor National Park and Dorset and East Devon National Park respectively.

A redrawing of boundaries to, for example, link the South Hams AONB/National Park with Dartmoor opens the prospect of three large parcels of Devon being created to create new National Parks, which would be at least semi-autonomous administratively from the rest of Devon.

The rump of Devon, still centred upon Exeter, and including, essentially, Teignbridge, Torridge, North Devon, Mid Devon, and much of East Devon, would have a population of around 500,000, and thus meet the Government’s guidelines.

All the existing District Councils would disappear, thus at a stroke removing an entire tier of local government and saving tens of millions of pounds. And the new and expanded National Parks will bring in greatly increased tourism revenue, and provide much-needed protection to our glorious countryside.

Is one Devon unitary council being created by stealth?

DCC Leader John Hart said on Spotlight this evening, that the reason Devon isn’t going for unitisation is that the government usually insists on 0.5m population for a unitary council and so Devon would need 2 unitary councils and, whichever way you cut it, that would result in one rich council and one poor council. (Presumably he means a north/south divide or east/west).

(No worries, Mr Hart, ALL councilswill be very poor, very soon!)

BUT WAIT! Isn’t “Greater Exeter” coming in close to 500,000 population?

Exeter – approx 120,000
Mid Devon – approx 80,000
Teignbridge – approx 125,000
East Devon – approx 140,000

YES – it is big enough to be unitary and is developing an over-arching “Strategic Plan”.

Are we getting a “Greater Exeter” unitary council by stealth?