'Why I support unitary council'

PUBLISHED: 10:33 10 September 2008 | UPDATED: 22:19 15 June 2010

In 2005 I decided, as a county and district councillor, that it would be the last time I stood for either Devon County Council or East Devon District Council as I hoped to spend more time with my husband. That didn't quite work out, but my resolve has n

In 2005 I decided, as a county and district councillor, that it would be the last time I stood for either Devon County Council or East Devon District Council as I hoped to spend more time with my husband. That didn't quite work out, but my resolve has not altered despite efforts by colleagues to change my mind. I, therefore, feel myself to be in an unbiassed position since I have no vested interest in keeping any position for I shall be a member of the public paying my council tax and expecting the best service for my money.I had previously been a co-opted member of the Education Committee of the London Borough of Hounslow Education Committee from 1969-1978 where I had trained teachers for 19 years.For many years I had been conscious of the need for highly qualified officers but also of elected members of sufficient calibre to run, in particular, big services such as education, social services and highways besides the central services necessary to any local authority. I did not see a ready supply in the outer London boroughs.My experience on Devon County Council has increased my belief that strategic services such as these need members able to grasp the essentials.It is a nonsense that services such as waste collection should be arbitrarily divided between local authorities so that the district councils collect our waste and the county council disposes of it. Trying to co-ordinate these services is very difficult because of differing dates for contracts to begin and end.A unitary Devon authority would not be Devon County Council writ large. It would be a completely new authority. Community Boards would be set up comprising representatives of local parish and town councils as well as the appropriate elected members of the unitary authority but drawing in the expertise of the local police, PCT etc which would not have a vote.Devon County Council already practices this policy for it has devolved some budgets to county committees and is working jointly with other organisations. Examples are the HATOC (Highways and Traffic Orders Committee) which work with district council members, the police and the bus companies, DORAC which deals jointly with Devon districts on waste regulations; the Devon Camera Partnership with the police ensures effective cover of closed circuit television and other public safety concerns over surveillance. There are many further examples of close working from other areas of Devon County Council competence involving health, education, planning and other important aspects of Devon from which residents and visitors benefit. Devon is seeking further ways of working more closely with other bodies, as indeed it has been doing for some time within the SW region and other regions at national as well as at European levels. My belief is that a single Devon unitary council that devolves some budgets and responsibilities to local Community Boards and a City Board will meet these two very important needs; to enable decision making at a level even closer to communities than the current two-tier system, while having the support within a council that has capacity to manage big budgets and services. A single unitary Devon will be more efficient and will allow greater investment in local communities. It will improve services, be better for people, and be better for local democracy. Moreover it has been calculated that it could probably save around £25m over four years to pay for the transitional costs. Once these were paid for then we could expect savings of around £6m a year.I would urge everyone to make the most of the Boundary Committee's current consultation and to respond within their deadline of September 26.Margaret Rogers District Councillor for Seaton County Councillor for Seaton Coastal


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