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21st May, 2022

Council merger plans have been officially halted

PLANS to merge Warwick and Stratford’s district councils have officially been halted after they requested the Government stop the process.

Warwick District Council (WDC) and Stratford District Council (SDC) have both agreed to request that the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities end the plan to create a South Warwickshire Council.

Last month, the leaders of the two councils announced there were ‘irreconcilable’ differences between their respective ‘approaches and ambitions’, meaning the proposed merger could not go ahead ‘in the interests of residents and staff’.

SDC leader Coun Tony Jefferson said: “We found an awful lot of new information and re-evaluated the position, and we decided the risks to our residents were too great.

“When the merger was first contemplated, our financial situation was very unclear following Covid. Thankfully things have turned out better than expected both in terms of government grants and interim financial settlements, plus the economic recovery has also been stronger than predicted.

“Despite that, savings have been realised as part of this process. Early analysis shows a net benefit of £110,000 of this joint working.

“The decision should not mean the end for the positives that this process has generated; we have learned a lot and wish to carry on as good partners and some of the joint working arrangements already put in place will continue as it makes sense to continue this work.”

Coun Andrew Day, leader of WDC, said: “This is not the place we wanted to be in, and whilst we’re disappointed to be here, it’s still a good place to be.

“Right from the beginning of the merger process, our residents and stakeholders backed the need for change in our local government.

“The work we’ve done has already generated significant benefits, many of which will endure.

“I would like to put on record my thanks to all of the hardworking officers of this council, who have never lost sight of what we’re here to do.”

Warwick’s Green Party group, the only party on WDC to unanimously vote against the merger, called for a full account of how much money the council spent on the plans.

Coun James Kennedy said: “Having voted against the merger I welcome the fact that it is not going ahead. This means that local decisions will continue to be made as close as possible to the people they affect.

“However the decision to abort the merger has serious consequences for residents in our district. An enormous amount of taxpayers’ money and officers’ time has been spent on this fiasco.

“I would like to seek assurances that officers’ time will now be redirected towards delivering services to the high standards we know they are capable of.

“A full account has to be provided to taxpayers of how much was spent money and time was spent on this fruitless exercise, and how much, if any, can be recovered. It seems to me that the council has dug itself a deep hole at the cost of residents.”

The councils both voted in favour of the long-standing plan to join forces and form a new single South Warwickshire Council as recently as last December.

The proposed new authority would have combined the two councils’ services such as waste collection, planning, housing, management of parks and sports facilities, licensing, business support and environmental health.

In April, it emerged Coun Jefferson had written to the Government requesting the decision on the proposed merger be delayed amid fears that due diligence work on a company owned by Warwick District Council (WDC) would not be completed in time.

But Coun Day said asking the Government to delay matters would result in trust being undermined, making it ‘untenable’ for the two authorities to merge.

Joint work will continue on key partnerships that are already underway, such as the new joint Waste Management Service, the Climate Action Plan, and the creation of the South Warwickshire Economic Strategy and Local Development Plan.

The Observer has contacted Warwick District Council for further comment.

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