Could Harborough District Council's days be numbered?

Harborough District Council's offices
Harborough District Council's offices

A proposal to wipe away Leicestershires district councils, including Harborough's, and replace them with a single authority has been put foward by the leader of the county council.

“The time has come to explore having a new council for Leicestershire,” County Council Leader Nick Rushton has announced today (Friday).

Cllr Nick Ruston

Cllr Nick Ruston

The news follows discussions with the council leaders in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire about how they could join up as part of a strategic alliance, to counterbalance the growing power and influence of the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Currently, Leicestershire has a county council and several district councils - the 'two tier' model.

The county deals with issues like education, adult and children's social care, fire services, libraries, roads, and waste disposal. District councils are responsible for areas such as planning, housing, environmental health, licensing, collecting household waste, and collecting council tax.

Unitary authorities - like the one in place in Leicester - combine both roles.

However, in places where unitary authorities cover larger areas with varying local characteristics, there have been concerns over residents feeling they have a greater disconnect with local democracy and decisions affecting them.

Combined authorities - like ones covering the West Midlands or Greater Manchester - are a relatively new idea where unitary councils work together on issues affecting a wider area like healthcare or public transport. They typically have a metro mayor in charge who is directly voted for by residents.

County council leader, Nick Rushton said: "It’s important that the East Midlands is not overshadowed by the West Midlands. We are simply losing out.

"I’ve been talking to other councils about how we make full use of powers over planning, transport and investment to maximise our collective clout. This is vital for Leicestershire’s economy – building the right skills, creating quality jobs and housing.

"As leaders, we need to get our act together and these discussions have sharpened the focus on local government structures and how complex they currently are.

"We’ve written to the new Secretary of State asking to meet and talk to him about our East Midlands plans."

"I believe the time has come to consider having a modern, progressive council for Leicestershire, to replace the county council and the seven district councils.

"Whilst I have my own preference of a single council with direct links to local communities through towns and parishes, there may be other options to consider.

"For now, we must accept that the two-tier local government system which remains in parts of England is broken, bureaucratic, old-fashioned, confusing, inefficient and takes money away from front-line services. A unitary council would save money, as well as simplify and improve services."

The county council says it has estimated running one council would save £30m a year ongoing by having fewer chief officers, senior staff, councillors and offices and said the saved money would be reinvested in services.

Options will now be drawn up – including proposals for a consultation with residents, businesses and other partners for discussion by the council’s scrutiny commission, cabinet and full county council later this year.