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4th Jul, 2022

MP's call for referendum on councils' merger plan dismissed

Editorial Correspondent 18th Nov, 2021 Updated: 18th Nov, 2021

CALLS for a referendum on Warwick and Stratford district council’s plans to merge have been dismissed as pointless.

Leader of Warwick District Council, Andrew Day, has responded to a demand from MP Matt Western that a referendum is conducted in the district over the formation of a South Warwickshire ‘Mega-Council.

Mr Western, who has set up a petition calling for a referendum, argues residents have not been fully informed about the merger and many did not know how the changes would “severely damage local democracy”.

But Coun Day has been quick to dismiss the Warwick and Leamington’s arguments.

He told The Observer: “At the district council, we’ve been working across all political groups to deal with real challenges that genuinely threaten the viability of our services. Not once has Mr Western offered an alternative that would generate the benefits of merging the councils, so it would be reasonable to conclude that he would rather that discretionary services were cut, preferring the closures of our leisure centres, destination parks, or the end to our recycling service?

“This is a real world choice, not one that councillors have the luxury of ducking. We can’t just increase Council Tax above two per cent to fund these things. At the end of the day, the bills have to be paid and we’re legally required to balance our council budget.

“The views of all our stakeholders about the proposed merger of Warwick and Stratford on Avon District Councils are genuinely important to councillors when we come to make this historic decision.

“A referendum would not give us that insight and even if one were conducted, it is the elected councillors who are required by law to make the decision to formally submit a merger proposal to the Government. The result of any possible referendum would not be binding on this decision and would cost a considerable sum to administer (estimate £250,000), with no guarantee of a meaningful turnout.”

Coun Day added a referendum would only include residents who wereregistered on the electoral roll, and would exclude other key stakeholders such as businesses, the voluntary and community sector, parish and town councils, neighbouring county and district councils and other strategic partners.

Coun Day continued: “Advice was taken from the Consultation Institute and it was judged that a more effective and less costly way to gather the views of all our stakeholders was to conduct a comprehensive, consultation programme.

“A consultation is much more engaging and inclusive, allowing our councils to get to the heart of what is important to all our stakeholders, by providing a way for them to share their views in more detail, rather than be asked for a binary response.

A public consultation and stakeholder engagement was completed in October. The results are currently being independently examined ahead of a public report which is due to be published at the end of this month. Councillors will then debate the findings, and discuss them with residents, ahead of a final decision on December 13.

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