WARWICK and Stratford district councils have agreed to pursue a political merger.
Both respective full councils at the Conservative-controlled authorities this week voted in favour of a proposal to join forces to form a new single South Warwickshire Council.
The business case will now be presented to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, with the aim to create a South Warwickshire Council by April 2024.
The new authority would carry out services such as waste collection, planning, housing, management of parks and sports facilities, licensing, business support and environmental health – currently delivered separately by the two authorities.
Government funding for councils across the country has reduced in recent years leaving them facing uncertain and challenging financial futures.
It has been estimated that combined, the currently Conservative-controlled Stratford and Warwick councils face a shortfall of around £9million a year.
Coun Andrew Day, leader of Warwick District Council (WDC), said: “I am immensely proud that our councillors have come to this brave and historic decision to go ahead and to build a new council and shape our own destiny for the future of local government in South Warwickshire.”
“The widely recognised need for change has not only been identified, but is now being acted upon and now working with Stratford-on-Avon District Council we can start to build a vibrant, new, agile and strong council to serve all our residents.”
“I want to thank councillors, stakeholders and residents for the many hours they have dedicated and insightful comments they have contributed.”
WDC Lib-Dem group leader Coun Alan Boad also welcomed the move.
He said: “We have no doubt that the merger offers the best way forward. The financial position of Warwick District Council has been quite precarious, weakened by both the withdrawal of funding by central government and by the pandemic.
“Both councils have worked very closely over the last year to save money by jointly delivering the services that we deliver. We believe that this merger proposal will not only deliver those savings, but also bring additional savings.
“This means that the new South Warwickshire District Council will be better placed to maintain and improve the level of service that is delivered to local residents.”
But WDC’s eight Green Party members all voted against the proposal.
Green group leader Coun Ian Davison said: “By pushing on with these merger plans, the Conservative-led administration seems to want years of reorganisation and rebranding rather than focusing on the real services people care about, recovering from Covid and dealing with the climate crisis.
“There are savings to be had from working with Stratford on practical things like bin collection, but these are happening anyway. Other potential savings like selling Riverside House and improving IT systems don’t need this merger.
“Despite repeated questions from the Green Party Group, the Conservatives have not been able to itemise their claimed savings from a full political merger. Years of cuts from Conservative central government means the council must find huge savings, but this political merger won’t help.
“Instead, there’s the danger that council staff who are worried about their jobs will now not focus so well on delivering services or saving money. It feels like we’ve entered a shotgun marriage where divorce is impossible when things don’t work out.”
And Warwick and Leamington Labour MP Matt Western fears the merger would undermine democracy.
He has called for a referendum on whether to pursue the merger or to consider alternative options.