Unitary Devon – do YOU trust their calculations?

AS THE ongoing debate about reorganisation of local government in Devon enters its latest chapter, East Devon District Council's Leader maintains that there has been little change in the arguments put forward in favour of a change – arguments that ""still don't hold water"".

AS THE ongoing debate about reorganisation of local government in Devon enters its latest chapter, East Devon District Council's Leader maintains that there has been little change in the arguments put forward in favour of a change - arguments that 'still don't hold water'

Councillor Sara Randall Johnson said today (Thursday): "The calculations supporting today's 'further proposals' are still based on out-of-date figures from 2007/08. If the Government had looked at Royal Bank of Scotland's financial projections from that year, they would have presumed that the Bank was profitable. How wrong they would have been!

"This shows the importance of using recent figures, not dodgy ones from the past - and these are available for council estimates in 2008/09*. It also shows how difficult it is to accurately project calculations into the future - up to six years in this case".

The Boundary Committee today (Thursday) announced the results of its latest deliberations on Local Government Reorganisation - following fresh instructions from Communities Secretary Hazel Blears. The same two options put forward in 2008 are repeated and are now described as "patterns"


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Unrealistic

Predictably, says Miss Randall Johnson, Boundary Committee Chairman Max Caller has again proposed a single unitary council for the county, excluding Plymouth and Torbay. This would mean scrapping the existing eight district councils in favour of one massive authority responsible for all council services in Devon, with effect from April 2011.

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This proposal has already gone through a financial evaluation process and the calculations have already been called into question by district councils, who believe they are unrealistic.

One of the key factors any new system must satisfy is that that it is affordable - that is to say it will save money even after the expense of bringing about the change.

Under the single Devon unitary proposal, it is estimated that �28 million can be saved after transitional costs of �74 million are met during year four (2015). Only from year five (2016), will the year-on-year savings kick in - and these are assumed to be around �19 million a year.

Voluntary

These savings equate to 2% of the current total local government spend in the county. All Devon authorities already achieve 3% year-on-year savings under the Gershon efficiency measures. All Devon councils have already agreed the concept of "Integrated Devon" - a voluntary collaboration on shared services in three clusters across the county. This has already achieved financial efficiencies and improvements in service delivery across a number of disciplines.

Apart from calling into question the abstract figures used by the Boundary Committee to support its proposals, Miss Randall Johnson also cited the more tangible figures coming to light as neighbouring Cornwall goes down the unitary route.

The estimated costs of Cornish transition were put at �19 million, but have already trebled to nearly �60 million. On this basis, the single Devon unitary transition costs could rise from �74 million to over �200 million.

The Boundary Committee have again offered as an alternative the possibility of a rural Devon unitary, with a separate Exeter unitary taking in Exmouth and other prime parts of East Devon.

Challenged

EDDC challenged both of the original Boundary Committee proposals in December, when the Council was granted a Judicial Review in the High Court**.

Mr Justice Cranston said the Boundary Committee had "misdirected itself as to what it could publish, consult on and propose to the Secretary of State" and "should consider with care whether it would be right to make further alternative proposals for Devon".

Councillor Randall Johnson added: "Whether or not the Boundary Committee has heeded the Judge's advice is unclear. However, what we do know is that they have come up with the same two proposals they offered before. Residents of East Devon who took part in a postal survey last year voted by nine to one against any change to the current system. And of the 5,500 respondents on the Boundary Committee's own website, 68% were against the single and dual unitary options. Only 13% favoured the Exeter/Exmouth option and only 14% wanted to see the single Devon unitary.

"It is disappointing that, despite Local Government Minister John Healey admitting that the status quo is an option that could be considered by the Boundary Committee, they have singularly failed to tell the public this. I would remind residents of East Devon that they do have the option of informing the Government that they wish the current system to be retained.

"I fail to understand why a Government that is daily on the rack over its handling of British banks would want to trust dodgy figures when making such a fundamental change to local government in Devon. With the whole world economy in turmoil, surely only a glutton for punishment would want to add to the misery of ordinary people by thrusting an unwanted and undemocratic time bomb upon them".

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