With councils under significant financial pressure exacerbate by the coronavirus response, it was right to look now at how to run services more efficiently in the future, Conservative council leader Kay Cutts has said.
But critics have argued the timing of the announcement was ‘massively insensitive’ and that local government reorganisation should ‘absolutely not be a priority’ during the current pandemic.
The Labour leader of Bassetlaw District Council has said it amounted to a ‘power grab in the midst of a crisis’.
The controversial plan – which was fiercely resisted by district and borough councils – was shelved in 2018.
The Conservatives on the county wanted to scrap Nottinghamshire’s seven districts and borough councils – and the county council – and replace them all with one single council for the whole of Notts, excluding the city.
They have estimated it would save between £27 million and £30 million a year for taxpayers.
But opponents to the plan argue it would be costly to set up, and would erode local decision making.
Now, the possibility of a new ‘super council’ will be examined again by a new committee.
The new group will look at the council’s coronavirus response, and whether setting up a single council afterwards could help make savings needed because of the crisis.
The committee is expected to be formally set up next week.
Speaking today Conservative councillor Kay Cutts, who represents Radcliffe on Trent, said: “We’re very concerned that the economy of the county is going to suffer.
“We know there are savings annually of between £27 and £30 million every year, and if we can save that sort of money in local government then you should.
“We’ve had 10 years of austerity which seems quite pointless now because (the Government) has shelled out billions of pounds to prop up the economy and furlough workers, so clearly we have to make sure as a council that we do save money wherever we can by being as efficient as we can, but also by not having anything that’s unnecessary.
“Because the country is so short of income, there aren’t many places to go in terms of raising taxation, I don’t think the chancellor will want to do that for all sorts of reasons.
“I don’t think families can afford much more taxation and therefore we must look at the other side and say how can we spend less?”
“We have a real duty to make sure that everything we spend is necessary to provide services and not merely window dressing that makes us feel good about ourselves.”
Asked about the timing of the announcement, and the decision to include local government reorganisation in the work of the coronavirus committee, councillor Cutts said: “It’s part and parcel of the same thing.
“The epidemic has changed the way we do so many things, and it’s showed us what’s possible
Councillor Simon Greaves is the Labour leader of Bassetlaw District Council, and represents the Worksop North East ward.
He said: “There will be a huge number of people utterly bemused that in the midst of trying to respond to a global pandemic the county council is looking at local government reorganisation.
“It’s about priorities. The priority for us (Bassetlaw) is dealing with the crisis, dealing with the humanitarian effort, processing all the benefit claims and looking after vulnerable people.
“I find it utterly amazing. Why this would be a political priority right now I just have no idea. We need to be giving this pandemic our undivided attention.
“It is rank opportunism, with incredibly insensitive timing.
“People in Westminster will be scratching their heads and thinking ‘There goes Nottinghamshire again’, and this just isn’t the time for any of this.”
Councillor Jason Zadrozny is the leader of Ashfield District Council for the Ashfield Independents, and is also a county councillor.
He pledged to do ‘everything possible’ to save the district council.
He said: “We’re not giving up without a fight. You’ve only got to look at the coronavirus epidemic to see that Ashfield gets a poor deal from County Hall.
“It was only a few weeks ago that we released figures that showed that the county council had “failed the most vulnerable” through community funding.
“Then they failed to reopen our recycling centre in Kirkby while reopening others.
“Ashfield District Council has really stepped to the plate during this crisis.
“We’ve been let down by the cruel, callous Tories.
“People lent their support to the Tories in huge numbers in December’s General Election – they will feel very let down today.”