North Herts Conservative councillor set to ask colleagues to back unitary council plans

Councillor David Levett plans to ask North Herts District Council to back plans for a unitary local

Councillor David Levett plans to ask North Herts District Council to back plans for a unitary local authority. - Credit: Archant

The leader of the Conservatives for North Herts District Council plans to back moves towards a single unitary authority in Hertfordshire ‘in the shortest possible time frame’.

At an ‘extraordinary meeting’ of the district council tomorrow, Councillor David Levett will ask members of North Herts District Council to support moves towards a unitary model.

Currently Hertfordshire is split into 10 district and boroughs, where local councils provide services such as planning, environmental health, bin collection, housing and licensing.

Meanwhile in each of those areas the county council is responsible for services such as education, libraries, social care, highways – and even the fire service.

Exploratory work commissioned by Hertfordshire County Council suggests that replacing all 11 councils with a single ‘unitary’ council could save up to £142 million a year.

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Cllr Levett’s motion asks councillors to note the “forthcoming publication of the Devolution and Recovery White Paper from Government” and to support the move to a single unitary authority for Hertfordshire.

It also asks them to instruct council officers and the leader of the council to work with other authorities and Hertfordshire County Council “to achieve this in the shortest possible time frame”.

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Speaking in advance of the meeting Cllr Levett says a move to a unitary authority would cut costs and remove duplication, as well as providing a clearer point of contact for residents and greater accountability.

By example, he points to the way rubbish is dealt with under the existing two-tier system, being collected by individual district and boroughs and then disposed of by the county council.

He suggests a uniform approach to collection and disposal by a unitary authority could cut costs and be better for the environment.

He also points to the greater efficiency of operating single systems for functions such as payroll and HR, although he accepts that ‘inevitably’ that would mean some job losses.

At the meeting Cllr Levett is hoping the motion will attract cross-party support, although he suggests there may be differing views on the number of unitary authorities there should be in the county.

But the move towards a single unitary authority has already been publicly opposed by the leaders of the 10 district and borough councils – who say it would be too large and too remote.

Speaking in advance of the council meeting on Thursday, North Herts council leader Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb has told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he believes it is “premature” to debate the issue.

He added that the council is already looking at what was appropriate and what was would be acceptable for the people of North Herts.

But he says that until the government publishes the white paper, it is not even known whether the government would allow a single unitary authority for a county the size of Hertfordshire.

Cllr Stears-Handscomb highlights the way district and borough councils are already working closely together, particularly through the Hertfordshire Growth Board.

He says the focus should now be on the district’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July Cllr Stears-Handscomb – alongside leaders of all 10 district and borough councils – publicly vowed to oppose a ‘county council proposal’ to establish a single unitary authority.

Since then the 10 leaders have written to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick to outline their opposition.

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