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EXCLUSIVE: UKIP calls for unitary authority in West Sussex

The council chamber at County Hall, Chichester

The council chamber at County Hall, Chichester

 

The UKIP opposition leader at County Hall is calling for all district and borough councils to be abolished in favour of a single unitary authority for West Sussex.

Mike Glennon (UKIP, Lancing) has tabled a motion, ahead of this Friday’s meeting of the Full Council in Chichester, declaring ‘the co-existence of parish, district, borough and county councils is a luxury the people of West Sussex cannot afford as we move into an austere future’.

The aim would to establish a new council for West Sussex as a whole which would be a merger of the existing political bodies in the county.

The move is set against the context of the Conservative administration proposing to cut in excess of £100m from the council’s budget over the next four years.

It is an amount causing significant concern in many quarters, not least the Don’t Cut Us Out campaign, established ‘to speak for the vulnerable of West Sussex’.

Its chair Margaret Guest said: “If these cuts go through, it will be a Valentine’s Day Massacre for the vulnerable.”

The campaigner added ‘a large number of vital services will take some massive hits’, including ‘Children and Family Centres, day centres for disabled people, and personal social care budgets’.

The UKIP motion concurs with such conclusions, stating: “It is not credible to pretend that massive reductions in the County Council annual budget are sustainable without major damage to front-line services.”

Mr Glennon hopes establishing a unitary authority in West Sussex would mitigate against the necessity of some of these cuts to front line services.

He said: “We are living in an age of austerity and our County Council is proposing long-term budget reductions of £141m.

“They are rather shy with the word cutbacks and only talk about efficiencies.

“The latter is laudable, but no matter how we couch it, cutbacks are on the menu.

“Cutbacks to services, which will be felt typically by the most vulnerable in our society.”

The UKIP leader said restructuring carried out in Wiltshire in 2009 has brought estimated on-going annual savings to the council taxpayer of more than £20m, despite that county having a much smaller population.

To put this in context, West Sussex County Council cutbacks for this coming year are set at

£14.7m.

“Having carried out very thorough research, including fact-finding visits to witness at first-hand what can be achieved, I can see this is the only way to protect services while keeping taxes down,” said Mr Glennon.

There are currently 376 county, borough and district councillors in West Sussex, with the public often confused about which authority is responsible for which services.

Across the county there are eight main councils, seven chief officers, seven finance directors as well as a whole range of highly-paid positions mostly multiplied by seven.

The UKIP motion argues that huge savings can be achieved by reducing this to just one layer and merging the numerous local authorities.

Mr Glennon added: “We believe the time has come to work together with districts and boroughs, with parishes, with MPs and with our own political parties.

“My motion hinges upon the need for collaborative work, a steering committee, to guide us down an already well-trodden - though admittedly complex – path.

“We owe it to the people of our county.

“Wilful inertia on our part will be recognised for what it is – Government before People.”

The County Council has been approached for comment.

What do you think? Should district and borough councils be abolished in West Sussex in favour of an all-encompassing unitary authority? Or would this pose inherent dangers in terms of local representation for our already ailing local democracy?

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