Warwick and Leamington Labour MP Matt Western has slammed Warwick and Stratford district councils over the ‘£320,000 cost to taxpayers’ for the scrapped plans to merge the two authorities.
Mr Western has said the Conservative leaderships of the district councils have spurned the money despite years of council tax rises and a cost-of-living crisis.
But Warwick District Council (WDC), in response to Mr Western’s Freedom of Information request, has insisted the long-term savings gained from combining services will leave it in a ‘net-beneficial position’.
A combined sum of £320,000 was spent by the two councils on the merger before it broke down – including nearly £160,000 by WDC.
Councillors backed plans in December to merge services with neighbouring Stratford District Council ahead of the creation of a South Warwickshire authority by 2024.
The decision came after the councils’ public consultation which, Mr Weston says ‘conveyed no clear-cut support for the proposal’.
Mr Western launched a petition calling for a referendum to enable the public to have the final say on any local government restructuring in the region.
It gained nearly 1,800 signatures.
The council insists cost savings – including from combining waste services, having a joint Local Plan for housing and development, and instating a joint legal team – will leave it more than £1m better off over the next several years.
Mr Western says the loss of at least £157.559 at this time is a huge blow to the public – while it remains to be seen whether savings will be realised.
He is also concerned the breakdown of the merger will pave the way for Warwickshire County Council to form a unitary authority.
He said: “I’ve opposed this ill-fated merger from the start and, though no doubt savings will be made, in this difficult moment our taxpayers need stability, security and wise investment.
“Residents have endured rising council tax for more than a decade and national tax rises will also hit them hard.
“A lot of the services the council says will result in savings involve billing the public anyway.
“These are additional income streams not mentioned by the Conservatives in their 2019 manifesto.
“Other stealth taxes have been announced like the rise in car parking and parking permits costs, as well as rent rises, and service charge increases from April.
“Meanwhile, the cost of living crisis is crippling families.
“This was a massive gamble taken by the council to win a local Conservative party power game - taking precedent over the prosperity of residents.
“Any changes should have been put to the people in a referendum.”
WDC leader Cllr Andrew Day took questions from councillors last week about the failure of the merger – with many in favour of blaming Stratford’s leadership for its breakdown.
“Irreconcilable differences” and concerns over WDC’s wholly owned housing company Milverton Homes were cited as reasons for Stratford pulling out of the deal.
Mr Western says the liability for any losses associated with Milverton Homes may have put Stratford off committing to the merger.
As part of the total cost, WDC paid £22,000 for a joint report by consultancy firm Deloitte, £31,750 for the public consultation and around £12,000 for a report on a new shared office.
A request to cancel the planned merger will now be submitted to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
As part of a lengthy open letter to the public, in which the council has responded to several issues and concerns regarding the scrapped merger, WDC has said: “The process has cost WDC £157,600 but working with SDC will achieve ongoing savings of £301,200 per annum."So, although a good deal of officer and councillor time has been abortive, there will be an ongoing significant financial saving to both councils from the merger work and the joint services we are undertaking."For instance, the Joint Local Plan will save £500,000 for this council, compared to doing it alone."