Moves under way to merge councils

A central Bedfordshire council has moved a step closer. It would mean a merging of Mid Beds District Council and South Bedfordshire District Council to maximise their resources. Councillors from both areas have been exploring a proposal which could, if ac

A central Bedfordshire council has moved a step closer.

It would mean a merging of Mid Beds District Council and South Bedfordshire District Council to maximise their resources.

Councillors from both areas have been exploring a proposal which could, if accepted by government, lead to the creation of a single unitary authority, Central Bedfordshire Council, covering the two districts.

Last week South Bedfordshire District Council's executive committee urged officers to work together with their Mid Beds District Council colleagues to more fully assess the proposals.

A final decision will be made at executive meetings by both councils next Wednesday, January 24, as submission must be made to Government the following day.

The two councils believe the move would have the support of the wider community, would preserve local services, keep local council taxes low and keep decision-making local.

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The move follows declarations by Bedfordshire County Council and Bedford Borough Council that they will recommend to the secretary of state that unitary local government in Bedfordshire is the best approach. A central Bedfordshire council is consistent with Bedford Borough Council's case for a unitary Bedford.

It is argued that there is a powerful argument that a single unitary central Bedfordshire council covering mid and south Bedfordshire and responsible for all services would save money, create a more efficient organisation and remove confusion over who is responsible for providing services.

If the Government endorses the merger proposals the current timetable being considered is for the new council being in place by 2009 following elections to the new council in 2008.

Both councils say rather than have a public consultation on the merger proposals now, one will be held if and when the Government gives the green light to the amalgamation.

The central Bedfordshire council proposal echoes the recommendation of the independent Local Government Commission in the mid 1990s for a unitary Luton, a unitary Bedford and the joining of mid and south Beds under the name Central Bedfordshire.

Independent consultation carried out by the Local Government Commission at the time found 55 per cent of local people preferred this option compared to only 17 per cent supporting a unitary county council.

Mid and South Beds Councils already work closely together on a number of services.

Cllr Norman Costin, leader of South Bedfordshire District Council, said: "We believe it is our duty to all our residents, in light of our successful record of providing public services and our reputation for sound leadership, to seek the best possible option for our communities.

"There are powerful reasons to move towards a unitary authority and we are looking at these closely to enable a final decision to be made."

Cllr Tricia Turner, leader of Mid Beds District Council, added: "Our actions are focussed on achieving the best value for money outcome for our communities and we hope that everyone in our area will join the debate to make sure that we achieve the best result possible.

"We feel that big is not best, that local services provided by local councils independently recognised as sound managers and held to account locally is the best way forward. There will be savings, inefficient management layers will be removed and we will ensure local council tax is spent on local services.

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