Plans to scrap the existing local government structure are back on the table, and if the move goes ahead, it could mean a council tax bonus for thousands of homes across the county.
Under the plans, the county, district and borough councils would be abolished, and a single, new council created.
If that happened, council tax levels would be set in line with the lowest rates in the county – currently in Hinckley and Bosworth – meaning those living elsewhere would see a reduction.
Leicestershire County Council’s Tory-run cabinet will discuss the long-mooted and controversial move at a meeting next week, with an eye to sending a letter to central Government outlining its plans for a unitary authority, and for an East Midlands super-council. The super-council, or East Midlands combined authority, could involve all of the councils in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, pooling resources and working together to secure funding for the region, similar to the set up in the West Midlands.
Leicestershire County Council leader Nick Rushton, with senior officers, claim that the move to a regional super-council would eventually generate savings in the region of £30 million a year after initial set-up costs of £18 million.
“Now is the perfect time. It’s something the Government wants, it’s something the East Midlands needs,” Councillor Rushton said.
“A good example is figures out today for highways. They show that in the East Midlands, we are only getting 50 per cent of what we’re entitled to whereas the West Midlands gets 100 per cent. A lot of that is to do with the fact that we haven’t got one voice.”
About council tax, he said: “Hinckley and Bosworth rates are the lowest at the moment, so we would bring everyone else down to that level.
“Day one, nothing will change, it will be gradual. Services won’t be interrupted or changed until we know what we’re working with.”
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Deputy leader Councillor Blake Pain added: “If not now, when? This has been talked about for years and now, with the response to Covid we know finances are getting extremely tight, they were tight, they are getting tighter and we need to respond to that.
“Unitary makes sense on so many levels, not least on a financial level, to get the best for Leicestershire and the East Midlands.”
The plan divides the opinions of others on the county and district and borough councils whenever it is discussed.
Coun Rushton said: “Everybody knows districts are dead. Little districts will not survive in their present form, so even if they don’t like the county’s unitary bid they’ve got to come up with something else.
“This won’t be universally popular with district leaders but what they need to remember is that we are going to double the amount of county councillors and we are going to have pay them a bit more money because they will have some more responsibility.”
Asked about redundancies, Coun Rushton said: “We will still need binmen, we will still need planners, we will still need housing officers. What we won’t need is seven chief executives or seven heads of departments and that is where the savings will come from.
“Frontline services can be maintained and expanded while backroom costs can be reduced. If we bring this in and no one notices and we save £30 million, that would be perfect.”
Coun Rushton said that if the plans are included in the first wave to be looked at by the Government, county council elections due to take place next year will be scrapped and elections for the new single authority and elected mayor, would take place in May of 2022.
The change to the Leicestershire set-up would also help the Conservative administration in its work with neighbouring councils in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to get a regional devolution deal for the East Midlands, which they say would create a combined authority under a new directly elected mayor who would potentially have control over strategic planning, transport and the emergency services.
The consortium argue this would help bring in more Government funding to the area.