Rugby council leader speaks against idea of Warwickshire becoming a unitary authority as consultation given the green light

Rugby's councillors voted in favour of starting a consultation to look into the future of the authority
Rugby Town Hall.Rugby Town Hall.
Rugby Town Hall.

Rugby council's leader said, pending further evidence, his preference would be for Rugby Borough Council to remain as it is as the authority voted in favour of beginning a consultation to look into its future.

The consultation comes ahead of the publishing of a government white paper in Autumn - which is widely believed to address devolution of powers, “levelling-up” between wealthier and more deprived communities, and reform.

At present, the county operates on the 'two-tier' council system, whereby we have Warwickshire County Council alongside district or borough councils - with county and borough/district councils having different responsibilities.

One of the outcomes of this consultation could be the recommendation for Warwickshire to become a unitary authority - meaning one council would control the entire county.

At Rugby council's July 21 meeting 37 councillors voted in favour of starting the consultation, with one councillor abstaining.

The vote came after some debate between councillors as to whether it was best to wait for the publishing of the white paper before committing resources to a consultation.

Other councillors suggested it was better to prepare now so the authority could put together an evidence-based report to come back with.

During the meeting, which was held online and live streamed, council leader Seb Lowe said: "Contrary to some of the comments which have appeared in the press, my personal preference would be for us to continue with the status quo - and this is because I believe that the interests of local people are better best served by their own local representatives.

"And whilst I do acknowledge legitimate arguments about the cost of local government, I have tended to believe the best way to save money is through shared services and other partnerships - without the need for this council to merge with one or more others."

Cllr Lowe added that the decision to hold the consultation comes about because of this expected government paper.

He said: "This issue has been firmly placed on the agenda by people outside of Rugby, and it is therefore right and proper that Rugby has a hand in formulating our response.

"There are no easy answers for us here - on the one hand residents of this borough, including myself, would have reservations about a county-wide unitary run from Warwick.

"Similarly, I do not see that, even if we were allowed to do so, we have any obvious strong affinity with any of the other districts and boroughs in Warwickshire either.

"In the absence of an obvious solution and given that we face, through no choice of our own, the most serious and far-reaching decision that we may ever be asked to make, we are faced with a very basic choice.

"Do we wish to let others make the decision for us?

"Do we wish to be told by central government, or by the county, or by the other districts and boroughs in the county, what form our local government will take?

"Or, do we wish to be involved in the process of developing a solution?

"I reiterate, I did not choose and did not wish for this to become such a pressing issue.

"However, the fact is it has become a pressing issue - and faced with that issue, I believe the only responsible course of action for us to take, to do the best by our communities and by the people of Rugby, is for us to play a full and active role in shaping the outcome of this process.

"I would like to state very plainly that at this stage I do not believe we have sufficient evidence to make any decision as to the right outcome for Rugby.

"And contrary to some of the reports that have appeared, the moving of this report is not in any way an attempt to force a particular outcome - far from it.

"The moving this report is a means of safeguarding the people of Rugby, ensuring that they have a voice at the table - and can make their feelings known in this debate.

"And for the record, I do not know whether the report will recommend a county-wide unitary or not."

Last Thursday, July 16, the Advertiser published a story on the proposed consultation (see quoting a report which was prepared by council officers ahead of the July 21 meeting.

That report outlined four possible outcomes of the consultation.

The first would be no change, the second a single unitary council covering the whole of the county, the third would be two unitary councils to cover the county.

Finally, there is scope for cross-county amalgamations - whereby there would be links with councils outside of Warwickshire.