Warwick and Leamington MP launches petition against merger of Warwick and Stratford District Councils

Matt Western MP says the formation of a "South Warwickshire Mega-Council" "would be tantamount to a Conservative Party power grab and is not in local residents’ interests"

Warwick District Council's Riverside House headquarters in Leamington.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western has launched a petition against the proposed merger of Warwick District of Stratford District Councils.

A public consultation has been launched into the proposed merger which both Conservative-lead authorities have said is aimed at tackling financial uncertainty in the face of reduced Government funding.But Mr Western has said the formation of a "South Warwickshire Mega-Council would be tantamount to a Conservative Party power grab" and "is not in local residents’ interests".

He said: "My #PublicFirst campaign aims for residents rather than a consultancy firms - paid more than £175,000 by the county's councils - to have the final say on plans that could alter regional politics beyond recognition and undermine democracy.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western.

"Under the Mega-Council plans that would see Stratford and Warwick district councils merge, the number of councillors would be cut significantly.

"This could mean councillors from Alcester making decisions on behalf of residents from Whitnash or Woodloes. Residents need to feel more connected not detached from political decision-making."

To view Mr Western's petition click here.

On the proposed merger, Cllr Andrew Day, the leader of Warwick District Council, said: “As much as the pandemic has been a crisis for us, it has presented a challenge and an opportunity for us to re-imagine what local government services in South Warwickshire might be like in the future.

“We need to hear your views – we need to listen and respond to what our residents want.

“Please take the time to carefully reflect on the questions, tell us what you think the future for local government in this area should be so that we can build a vibrant, new, agile and strong Council to serve you.”

The consultation document and online questionnaire can be viewed and completed here.

For completion on paper, as well as in different languages and formats can be requested by emailing [email protected] or calling 01789 267575.

The consultation will run until Sunday October 24.

The findings from the consultation will be considered, along with any other evidence, at a meeting of the councils on December 13.

At meeting this week, it was announced that plans to integrate the workforce of Stratford and Warwick District Councils and find a shared civic and office space are set to continue regardless of whether a full merger is agreed.

Savings of up to £3.8m each year have been identified although, according to officers, the greatest opportunity to cut costs will come if the two authorities merge and operate as a single body.

Members of Stratford District Council’s cabinet this week recommended to full council that work progresses on the full integration and that the search continues for a new HQ. A similar decision is expected from their counterparts at Warwick.

Estimates drawn up by financial experts Deloittes show that the majority of the savings will be made by Warwick District Council – £2.5m from 2025/26.

Speaking at this week’s meeting, Cllr Chris Kettle (Con, Bishop’s Itchington) said: “Are we still comfortable that the savings are realistic after all the additional work that has been done – or might we see more savings?”

Cllr Mark Cargill (Con, Alcester Rural), the portfolio holder for transformation, replied: “I’m not aware of any changes at this stage. It is dynamic and will depend on things like the speed of the integration and the amount of staff involved.”

And chief executive David Buckland added: “The figure of £3.8m is slightly below what Deloittes had forecast in their report so it is a prudent estimate.”

In a report prepared for the meeting, it was explained that the computer systems at both councils needed updating and that was key to any integration of services.

The report said: “ICT is a fundamental support area for the proposed service integrations - without an effective, converged ICT team and infrastructure to support the council’s aspirations, it will be virtually impossible to achieve the predicted benefits of the merger process.

“The timing of the ICT service integration is optimal. It ensures that the ICT team will be ready to support other services through their transformation journey, which would be significantly more difficult if ICT’s merger were delayed.

“ICT are also supportive of the recommendation to make an early decision regarding future office accommodation. ICT infrastructure at both WDC and SDC requires significant future investment, and this process can be made far more effective if a direction for office accommodation is agreed.”