GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE ‘SHOWS OUR COUNCILS ARE NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE’
TeessideTogether, 22 March 2016
Government guidance on the right size for local councils ‘makes one thing crystal clear—Teesside can’t afford to carry on as we are.’
That was the message from TeessideTogether—set up to campaign for a clear and united identity for the area—after it was revealed that Government officials have advised that the ‘optimum size’ for unitary councils is between 300,000 and 700,000 residents, far bigger than any of the current councils in the Teesside area.
TeessideTogether Chairman Dave Roberts said the guidelines from officials at the Department of Communities and Local Government showed that the current fragmented structure on Teesside had to change, especially in the light of continuing spending cuts.
Said Dave Roberts “This guidance—provided to Dorset County Council, one of many areas currently considering reorganisation—is quite clear. As a rule unitary councils should serve populations of between three and seven hundred thousand people. None of the local authorities in our area come anywhere near that minimum figure.
Stockton Council, the biggest, falls more than a hundred thousand below the minimum recommended threshold, whilst Hartlepool, at just over 92, 000, is less than a third. Contrast that with a united Teesside authority which would have a population of around 560,000 and even the addition of Darlington would create an authority well within the Government guidelines.
“It’s obvious now that the current structure is not fit for purpose and that its only defenders are those with a vested interest in its continuation, notably the local politicians whose positions and power depend on maintaining the status quo.
“Councillors’ allowances from across the five local authorities in the last financial year totalled almost £3million and, of course, the bill for bureaucracy goes on and on…five chief executives, some paid more than the Prime Minister, five lots of senior management teams, five headquarters buildings.
“All this at a time when front-line services face being decimated by continuing cuts—for example Stockton predicts further reductions of £21million over the next four years, Darlington is looking at further cuts of £12.5million, Middlesbrough is seeking a further £56million in cuts.
“Yet far from recognising that this fragmentation cannot continue, we are seeing the bureaucracy piled upon bureaucracy…on top of the councils we have the Local Enterprise Partnership, the unelected and unaccountable Combined Authority, the latest creation of the Mayoral Development Corporation and soon, of course, the Mayor’s Office.
“If the Northern Powerhouse is to mean anything in this area surely James Wharton, as both a local MP and the Minister charged with delivering the policy, should, along with other Ministers and MPs, be calling for a structure which can deliver genuinely effective and efficient services, can provide a truly united voice for the area—and meet the Government’s own blueprint.”