Cabinet members recommend merger of Warwick and Stratford district councils - but MP raises concerns over public support for the plan

A decision on whether to proceed with the merger will be made on Monday

Cabinet members at Warwick District Council have recommended making a formal bid to merge with their neighbours in Stratford and create a new South Warwickshire District Council.

The decision was taken at last night’s (Thursday's) meeting and followed a week of scrutiny sessions. The matter will now go before a full council meeting on Monday (December 13) evening - to be held at the Slate, Warwick University, at 6pm. This coincides with the council meeting of their Stratford counterparts.

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Leader Cllr Andrew Day (Con, Bishop’s Tachbrook) thanked officers and his fellow councillors for their work in reading and scrutinising the various reports.

Warwick District Council's Riverside House headquarters in Leamington.

He said: “We have drawn on the talents of every single member of this council in every single group. The pandemic has taught us about the power and the importance of place and local government. The impact that this council has had over the past 18 months on the day to day lives of residents, businesses and community organisations cannot be underestimated and it is that which we need to harness and distil when it comes to building - if this proceeds - a new council.”

A number of councillors spoke in favour of a merger between the two authorities, saying that residents who took part in the consultation wanted change.

Cllr Jan Matecki (Con, Budbrooke) said: “The vast majority of people who went through the questionnaire want change and as I see it, if you strip it back there are only three options for us - do nothing, continue to integrate our services or we merge. The only change within our control is for the merger. I will be supporting this because the people want change.”

Cllr Judy Falp (Ind, Whitnash) added: “We in both councils know that we cannot carry on as we have been, our services have no flesh left on the bone. Residents recognise this and we need to change.”

Warwick District Council leader Councillor Andrew Day.

And Cllr Alan Rhead (Con, Budbrooke) said: “By having a political merger we will do better at climate change. Again on health and wellbeing, the merger will provide a far better service to our residents - and that is what I want to underline, a far better service to our residents. We need to make sure that in this debate - tonight and on Monday - that we don’t just get hung up about the finance although it is important.

“I will though end on a financial matter because without doubt, and this report sets it out quite explicitly, if we don't have a merger then we have serious considerations to make as a result.”

This week, Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western spoke in parliament about his opposition to the merger, which he has described as "undemocratic" and a "power grab".

He presented his petition calling for a citizen’s Aassembly "to fully inform people about the future of regional governance" and then a people’s referendum "to have the clear and decisive final say – taking that power from councillors, hired consultants and unelected officials".

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western.

He said: "We are now approaching 1,200 signatures and I’m hoping for hundreds more before Monday’s council meeting, when I will be addressing councillors.

"We must stop this power grab.

"Nearly two thirds of Warwick district residents oppose it -the council's own consultation has revealed.

"We must not let councillors push this through with no clear mandate, nor must we allow people in Stratford to determine our future for us.

"We need a referendum now."

Mr Western is urging people to sign his petition before Monday at https://mattwestern.org/campaign/put-it-to-the-people/He added: "The councils’ own questionnaire shows 64 per cent of Warwick district residents oppose the plans. And across the two districts, 58 per cent of residents are against the merger.

"Three quarters of respondents in Warwick district said they are concerned they would not be able to contact a councillor and would be further away from local decision-making.

"In fact, it is even more concerning that more people are in support of the merger in Stratford than in Warwick and our own elected officials in our district are going to take their side and impose this model of governance on us against our will.

"It is rampantly undemocratic. And, in the spirit of true democracy, a referendum would be the only trustworthy and independent way to decide whether to pursue the plans."