July 7, City council rejects 'super-council'

PROPOSALS announced by the Boundary Committee that one super-sized council could provide all local services across Devon would mean the end of 800 years of direct local government for the city.

PROPOSALS announced by the Boundary Committee that one super-sized council could provide all local services across Devon would mean the end of 800 years of direct local government for the city.

Exeter City Council regards the proposed single council for all Devon including Exeter as a betrayal of local people, which will lead to poorer services and a failure of democracy. It means the potential destruction of history and tradition, and cost effectiveness and efficiency.

However an alternative, that there might also be a single council for Exeter and surrounding areas including Exmouth, as well as one council outside this area for Devon, has been suggested by the Boundary Committee. Today (July 7) Exeter City Council is calling for a campaign in support of this second proposal.

This alternative would mean Devon would have two all- purpose councils. One covering Exeter, and the surrounding area, and a second all-purpose council for the rest of Devon. The Boundary Committee says this alternative also has merit. The Committee says 'We have not finalised our proposal...in the light of further evidence received, we may decide that our draft proposal should be refined or otherwise varied, and we may change the proposal before we submit our final advice to the Secretary of State.'

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Exeter City Council supports the two council view, and will fight the proposal for one super-sized Devon council to serve a population of 750,000, second only to Birmingham in population and geographically one of the largest councils in the country.

"This is unexpected and disappointing news. But the battle has just begun. If the proposal for a single Devon council is adopted, eight hundred years of traditional self-governance for one of England's leading cities could be swept away," said Councillor Pete Edwards, Chair of the City Council's Local Government Review Committee. "This proposal places historic Exeter alongside rural market towns in terms of importance, and fails to make any sense.

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"Exeter currently has an efficient and high performing city council, judged to be Excellent by the Audit Commission. It has the highest user satisfaction rates in Devon, and the lowest council tax rate - indeed the fifth lowest in England. All of this will be lost if this unbelievable proposal is approved.

"By working together with partner organisations, not just in the city but in the parishes and Exmouth, we intend to overturn this plan for a super-sized Devon. Exeter's success and democratic tradition means we have the strongest case to work with these areas.

"Key to the secondary proposal is Exmouth. There are already strong links and a natural flow between the two. We believe that by working alongside the existing Town Council, understanding even better the needs of the town and its people, and resourcing local solutions, we have the ability to really help the area thrive and share our economic success.

"The alternative, under the super-sized Devon would be a county where the only people with a voice in local affairs would be a small number of powerless councillors and unelected representatives. Key decisions will be taken by a remote and inflexible bureaucracy covering the whole of Devon. The emphasis would be on rural affairs - the Boundary Committee itself says today that it is concerned about Exeter being included. It is entirely possible that in future key decisions affecting our schools, our social services, and care for our environment will be taken by people with no greater connection to the city than their visits from 50 miles away to make pronouncements, affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Councillor Edwards adds: "For its part, Devon says it will make service improvements. Indeed it says it would like to raise standards to those of the best existing councils in the County. That means us - we're already there. And if this promise of improvement is genuine - why hasn't it happened up to now? Have standards deliberately been kept low awaiting a magic moment when the county can improve them? Of course not. It's an empty promise, a betrayal of local people.

"Exeter will fight the unitary Devon proposal and I invite all who feel the same to join in the campaign and make sense prevail."

A proposal for Exeter's services to be delivered by one single council for the city was first put forward by the City Council eighteen months ago. At that time the Government accepted it would produce a wide range of benefits including improved services for local citizens such as schools, and transport, currently under the control of Devon County Council. However the Government asked for the Boundary Committee to carry out another study covering all Devon, after it claimed it would take too long to pay back the cost of reorganisation in Exeter alone, which was disputed by Exeter City Council.

The implications of this will be considered, with councillors, representatives and organisations from the affected areas, in the coming weeks. However, the City Council believes initially, that the unitary Devon proposal fails to embrace the democratic principle of local people running local affairs. In trying to combine the interests of diverse rural communities it will lead to compromises and a down-grading of service excellence. The current Exeter City Council is judged as 'excellent' by the Audit Commission - Devon County Council, which would form the basis of a new authority, is not.

The Boundary Committee has given local people, business and organisations twelve weeks to respond to its proposal before it makes a final recommendation. That will be considered by the Government before final decision early next year. Further information can be found on Exeter City Council's website at www.exeter.gov.uk

Exeter City Council strongly supports local people, business and organisations contributing to the debate. Anyone who wishes to comment can contact the Boundary Committee by writing to The Review Manager (Devon), The Boundary Committee for England, Trevelyan House, Great Peter Street, London, SW1P 2HW, or email: reviews@boundarycommittee.org.uk

Civic Centre, Paris Street, Exeter, EX1 1JN

Tel: 01392 277888 www.exeter.gov.uk

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