9:00am Wednesday 10th October 2012
By James Nadal
HOPES of reviving plans for a radical council merger which could potentially save taxpayers millions of pounds have been dashed.
A plea to set up an all party group at Wycombe District Council to further investigate the possibility of a unitary authority has been dismissed.
Council leader Alex Collingwood believes such a move would only bring “false hope” that it could happen and said that as things stand a merger is unaffordable.
Cllr Alan Turner appealed at a public meeting for the Conservative administration to look seriously into the idea.
A report in 2006 stated that rolling together the five existing district councils and Buckinghamshire County Council into one could have saved an estimated £35m a year.
Earlier this year, the BFP reported on a report previously unseen publicly, which found a plan to cut top bosses at three district councils - Wycombe, South Bucks and Chiltern – could have saved Wycombe taxpayers £1.1m per year.
The three authorities were looking last year at saving money by sharing a chief executive and other managers.
The two authorities went ahead with the changes without WDC, which said at the time the report was finished, many questions remained over the untested structure.
At the October 1 meeting Cllr Turner called on the Tory run council to create a cross-party group to investigate a merger.
He said: “This first, very small step, which would cost relatively little should be a no brainer given the potential long term savings that might be achieved. Savings that could help fund front line services, major growth projects, keep council tax to a minimum, and who knows, repair our roads.”
Cllr Collingwood repeated his stance from earlier this year, saying the immediate costs of making the changes made it “simply unaffordable” and would have to be funded by taxpayers.
He said: "On that basis we are not prepared to divert resources for any issue which the government have made clear is not on their agenda."
He said it would mean increased costs for all taxpayers.
Cllr Turner was unimpressed, saying it was 'incredible' that the council was working on sharing waste management with Chiltern District Council yet would not look further at this idea which he claimed could save even more cash.
“How can you justify looking at making savings in one area but you are not prepared to take a small step looking into saving any more money?” he asked.
Cllr Collingwood said: "It may seem like a great idea but the reality is very clear, the costs will outweigh the benefits and in reality will distract us from improving services and the quality of life in our district.
“In my mind, at this stage, I think it gives people false hope going down that road.”
WDC and BCC have made significant cuts in their management structure in recent years as they aim to reduce costs.
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