MP demands referendum to decide on Warwick district and Stratford ‘mega-council’ merger proposal

Matt Western believes the changes to the two district councils would "severely damage local democracy"

Warwick District Council's Riverside House headquarters in Leamington.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western is demanding a referendum to decide on the structure of regional government in Warwickshire amid council merger plans which he believes "will severely damage local democracy".

Mr Western has already gained nearly 700 signatures for his petition against the formation of a South Warwickshire ‘mega-council'

Proposals submitted to the Government could lead to the merger of the Warwick and Stratford district councils.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western.

Mr Western’s petition calls for a citizens’ assembly to decide the options on the ballot paper for a district-wide referendum on models of future regional governance.

If the plan submitted by the two districts is approved by government, the number of councillors serving residents in south Warwickshire would be cut from 80 to 60.

The plans were approved in principle in February by councillors from both authorities, with an agreement to work towards the merger by 2024.

In response, Mr Western has called on Warwick District Council to set up and advertise the citizens’ assembly after its public consultation closed at the end of last month.

Warwick District Council leader Cllr Andrew Day talks to the press.

The assembly would bring together selected residents, covering every demographic, and it would decide on the referendum questions and the forms of future local authorities featured on the ballot paper.

He said: “The public has not been fully informed about the merger and many do not yet know how the changes will severely damage local democracy.

“Residents need to feel more connected and not detached from political decision-making.

“We need councils that are more in touch with residents, not larger more distant ones.

“It could mean it is more likely a councillor from Alcester making decisions on behalf of residents from Woodloes or Whitnash.

“Therefore, I am now demanding that we put it to the people and stage a referendum to have the final say on whether to pursue the plans – in honour of truly democratic values.

“The previous petition I started was not specific enough, nor did it do justice to the sheer scale of the issue at hand.

“Warwick District Council was prepared to stage a referendum to decide whether to adopt a climate change levy in Spring 2020 – and now it must allow the same for the mega-council proposal.”

Stratford and Warwick district council chiefs argue that the streamlining allowed by the merger would enable substantial savings and secure the long-term future of key services.

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."

But Mr Western has pointed out that the two councils spent an estimated £125,000 of taxpayers’ money on a review including two reports by consultancy firm Deloitte that reached the same conclusion.

Mr Western says the decision "should not be steamrollered through by councillors on the advice of multinational consultancy firms, while side-lining residents".