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Feature: New Buckinghamshire Council takes shape

A £1billion budget, 147 councillors, and more than 540,000 people to look after.

On April 1, local government in Bucks will be transformed when the existing five county and district councils join up to create one – The Buckinghamshire Council.

The move to a unitary authority will ensure that residents have one place to go if they have a query, complaint or question.

Whether it be a pothole blighting a road, or a bin left uncollected, there will be no to-ing and fro-ing between districts and the county.

Tasked with the job of implementing the new council is a temporary body called the Shadow Executive (the ‘cabinet’).

The group brings together 17 members from the five councils to make the transition.

Its leader, Cllr Martin Tett, (the head of the county council) is joined by deputy leader Cllr Katrina Wood – who presides at the helm of Wycombe District Council.

Meanwhile, another temporary group called the Shadow Authority is made up of all councillors serving right now (the ‘full council’).

The chairman – Marlow mayor Cllr Richard Scott - and vice-chairman Cllr Peter Strachan were appointed at the group’s first meeting.

This group is important – it will be setting the budget for the new council.

Shadow Executive leader Cllr Tett (Con, Little Chalfont and Amersham Common) said the move to a unitary has always been the right thing to do – ever since he moved to Bucks nearly 40 years ago.

“I never knew who did what. As a resident it was total confusion,” he said.

“It was always someone else’s fault or responsibility. So for me, bringing it all together, making it simpler for residents, is fundamental.”

When the new council becomes operational on April 1, all district and county councillors will automatically move over to the new authority.

There will be local elections on May 7 to appoint 147 new councillors, with three councillors in each ward, which will remain the same as the county council wards.

Election votes will be counted on May 8 before the first full Buckinghamshire Council meeting takes place on May 20, where a new leader will be decided.

This meeting will see councillors vote on the budget, which will also go through the shadow executive and authority at their meetings on February 18 and 27.

The next election will take place in 2025, and every four years after that.

Cllr Tett said: “It has just been absolutely foot to the floor for the last 12 months.

“What I am determined on is that residents won’t see any real change, in the nicest possible way. What they won’t see is their bins not emptied.

“What they will see is exactly what they had before, if not better.”

Bins will still be collected, Cllr Tett has reassured...

One of the criticisms of the new Buckinghamshire Council has been that it will become ‘less local’ due to it covering a larger area.

But Cllr Tett dismissed those claims.

“One of the key judgements of the business case the government accepted was that we would be even more local than the former structure,” he said.

“[We will] stick with the district areas for planning, because of the local plans. We will have a Wycombe area planning committee.

“We will start immediately making a new [local plan] because we will have to put in place a plan for the new geography of the council.”

Other meetings, such as full council, will have to be held in the county town of Aylesbury.

“We are going to have 147 members which is a giant number,” Cllr Tett added.

“That makes it really difficult to find a venue. There are not many places that can hold that. The only place that can is the Aylesbury Vale District Council offices.”

Cllr Tett was keen to reiterate how the unitary council will look to bring the council closer to residents through 16 community boards.

Each board will be made up of residents, town or parish councils, and other organisations like the police, to take on issues pertinent to that area.

A total of £4million will be distributed throughout them. Elsewhere, council access points will be dotted around to provide people with face-to-face support.

Cllr Tett has opened up the opportunity for town and parish councils in Bucks to talk to the new council about more devolved services.

“We have already devolved [services] to a lot of councils that want it, but we are offering more to councils that want more. Come and talk to us,” he said.

A new dawn awaits in Bucks. It remains to be seen how well the unitary authority will do, but Cllr Tett is optimistic.

“I want services to improve and be better value for money,” he said.

When asked how he was feeling ahead of the historic day on April 1, his answer was honest.

“I am both excited and exhausted,” he said.

Visit shadow.buckinghamshire.gov.uk for more information.

Here is how the Buckinghamshire Council will be spending some of its £1billion budget:

W About half of the funds will go straight to schools (£503million).

W £190m will go into adult social care.

W £75m to supporting vulnerable young people.

W More than £100m on roads over the next five years.

W £5m will be committed to fighting climate change.

“It will be up to the new council and its members what it does in terms of which [carbon neutral] date it is aiming for and how much money it wants to invest,” Cllr Tett said.

The Buckinghamshire Council will want to double the number of electric parking points and work with schools to plant more trees on their grounds, Cllr Tett added.

On the subject of council tax, there will be a 1.99 per cent increase for the cost of living (inflation) and a 2 per cent increase for adult social care.

The new authority will be funded by council tax (80 per cent), business rates (14 per cent), new homes bonus (two per cent), and other grants (four per cent).

Cllr Tett – who will be putting himself forward as leader if he and his party win in the local election – said he will also look at town centre regeneration as another key area for his authority.

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