Two options for the future of local government in Warwickshire are to be presented to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The decision was agreed by nearly two-thirds of 54 councillors voting at tonight's (Tuesday's) virtual full council meeting of Warwickshire County Council - a meeting that lasted seven hours.
The council’s cabinet had previously agreed to send their proposal for a single unitary authority to the Ministry but this prompted a backlash from Warwickshire’s five district and borough councils who commissioned their own report which championed two unitaries - one for the north of the county and one for the south.
Over the course of the day-long meeting, the original recommendation proposed by county council leader Cllr Izzi Seccombe (Con, Stour and the Vale) was twice amended. A Lib Dem amendment calling for a residents panel where councillors would seek the views of residents was accepted by the ruling Conservative group.
Two Labour amendments which would have delayed the process were rejected but a Tory amendment inviting the districts and boroughs to make their submission to the Secretary of State alongside the county council was approved.
Cllr Jill Simpson-Vince (Con, Brownsover and Coton Park) kicked off the debate by explaining what the amended recommendation would mean.
She said: “Both reports show there are significant savings to be made by becoming unitary but it is not just about savings, it also has to be about quality of service and representation. For me, this is as important as cost savings.
“If both reports are submitted to the Secretary of State, when appropriate he can start the full public consultation considering all the evidence in both reports. This public consultation is a critical part of the process and it is on the back of this that he decides what unitary will look like for us - not any of us here today, not the districts and boroughs. Whether it should be for one or two unitaries is for the public and the Secretary of State to decide.”
Some councillors voiced concerns about the haste of submitting the papers to Whitehall.
Cllr Jenny Fradgeley (Lib Dem, Stratford West) said: “I have a concern that we make sure we have sufficient time for all the consultations to take place - with businesses, residents, community groups and especially with towns and parishes as they will be stepping up to play a much larger role.
“My concern is that we don’t rush this and that we give people time to make sure they know and understand what the consequences will be to this major change. It has to be grassroots upwards and not top down.”
And Cllr Margaret Bell (Con, Hartshill and Mancestter), one of 14 councillors to vote against the proposal, added: “I do not believe that these reports should be submitted to government before wide consultation with the public and the different organisations and before the White Paper is published.
“It is an important debate that’s taking place at the wrong time. It is with a heavy heart - because it would be great to see us all united - that I cannot support this motion.”