Monday, 17 February 2014

Public Interest Debate to hear views about unitary status

Friday’s County Council meeting was lively and there was certainly lots of debate in the council chamber.

As well as discussions around our £535 million budget for 2014/15, two motions were also put before the County Council by Opposition councillors about West Sussex County Council becoming a unitary authority .

Currently there are three tiers of local government in West Sussex – town and parish councils, our seven district and borough councils and WSCC.

Each council provides many different services, for example the district or borough councils are responsible for collecting the rubbish and recycling material, housing services, benefits, food safety, some parks and green spaces, leisure facilities and collecting council tax and the town and parish councils provide that grass-roots link very local services and amenities.

The county council deals with what comes from our residents’ bins - the rubbish or recyclables collected - our huge road network, West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, schools and all important children’s services, as well as adult social care services and our libraries to name but a few of the services people come into contact with every day, often without even realising.

West Sussex County Council actually delivers around 80% of the public services in the county but there are many things that we all do together and that we all have a duty to get right. Our responsibilities around safeguarding and making sure our most vulnerable residents are safe and protected for example, ensuring that we all do our bit to promote our areas of West Sussex as a great place to live, visit and do business. And, most recently, our new roles around the provision of some health services as well.

So, as you read this you may just wonder why don’t we all join together to make one unitary authority that provides all the services. That was what was at the heart of Friday’s proposition in the council chamber and that was very much part of the debate.

The views were thoughtful and it was interesting to hear the range of opinions.

So why don’t we just do it? Well, the answer to that is there is no legislation to make that happen now. But, sometime in the future, there may well be.

If that were to happen it would be a huge step with considerable upheaval, as with any merger.

And while one of the arguments for this approach is the money any such move would save – and that is potentially correct – there would be a considerable cost to making it happen in the first place.

I think it’s important to hear what the public have to say and what our district and borough councillors and town and parish councillors think.

This is not a decision for the County Council to arrogantly make without any reference or dialogue with our partners and residents. So, on Friday, we proposed that a Public Interest Debate should be held with our district and borough councillors and that we should organise a county-wide public consultation to gather views and opinions. I’m pleased to say this was agreed.

So there is some work to do and I really look forward to holding this Public Interest Debate and seeking, hearing and listening to your views.

I’ll keep you posted with plans as they progress over the coming weeks and months.

Of course nothing can or will happen without legislation but in the event that it becomes a possibility in the future we will have a good understanding of what is right for this county and what our residents think.

With best wishes

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