Call for residents to oppose unitary council

A CALL for action to stop proposals to replace Devon s borough, district and county councils with a single unitary authority for the county has been made by East Devon District Council leader Sara Randall Johnson.

A CALL for action to stop proposals to replace Devon's borough, district and county councils with a single unitary authority for the county has been made by East Devon District Council leader Sara Randall Johnson.

Last month (December), the Boundary Committee advised the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government John Denham that Devon's 750,000 residents should have just one council. The advice was given despite two public consultations run by the Boundary Committee showing more than 60 per cent of those who responded are against any changes.

Mr Denham has opened the issue up for further consultation until Tuesday January 19. If the Government chooses to ratify the Boundary Committee proposals, a new Devon unitary could be in place by April 1, 2011. Alternatively, he could implement the original Exeter City Council unitary proposal, with or without modification, or take no action.

Sara Randall Johnson is calling on all residents and organisations, even those who have previously submitted their views to the Boundary Committee in the past, to do so to the Minister again. She is particularly appealing to those who have not yet had their say to consider making representations.

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She said: "This is the last opportunity to influence the decision and we, as a Council, say that the unitary options - both the single Devon unitary and the double unitary for Exeter and the rest of Devon - would be a disaster, both financially and democratically.

"Such a reorganisation will be a distraction and waste millions of pounds - vital public money that's needed to help our residents and businesses during the worst recession in living memory.

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"Just look towards the new unitary Cornwall Council for the evidence. The original cost of implementing unitary status has trebled to more than �60 million. Pressed through against the will of the majority, the new authority has already incurred a massive overspend whilst under-performing in key areas.

"A Devon unitary will have the worst level of democratic representation in the country, with a proposed 100 elected councillors serving almost 3/4 million people.

"This is a reorganisation that the vast majority of people haven't asked for and don't want."

Sara Randall Johnson said that councils across the county are already sharing resources, making real savings and continuing to provide high quality services to residents. Only last month the independent Audit Commission applauded East Devon for consistently providing good services at low cost.

"EDDC has proved it works well with the County and with neighbouring councils as they push forward with projects vital to the regional, county and local economy in the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point. We are also taking on board the 'shared services' agenda -working with Exeter City Council through an interim shared director. This year, we are also investigating a shared services arrangement with neighbouring South Somerset District Council. All this progress could now be at risk through a decision of one Minister".

Later this month (January 14) Sara Randall Johnson and other Devon council leaders and MPs are due to meet Local Government Minister Rosie Winterton in London to press the case for no imposed structural change in Devon.

To make representations to the Secretary of State, you can email or write to the Unitary Structures Team, Zone 3/J1, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

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