By Kit Sandeman, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans to scrap district and borough councils across Nottinghamshire and create one ‘super council’ have been shelved.
It was announced today (Dec 11) – ahead of a key vote on Thursday – that the idea is being put on hold indefinitely following months of debate and research.
Nottinghamshire County Council’s Conservative Leader Kay Cutts had put forward the change, which would have created either a single authority, or two large councils, in place of the current system of seven district and borough councils plus one county council.
Supporters said it would have helped save £27 million a year – savings which will now have to found from other areas of the county council’s already-squeezed budget.
Cllr Cutts, also said the plans were not being permanently scrapped, but would be revisited after local council elections in May next year.
One leader of an opposition group called on her to resign following the announcement, and others said the vote was scrapped because Cllr Cutts feared losing it.
She denied that claim, saying she needed more time to work with groups involved on other areas of co-operation.
The leader of the Ashfield Independents, Councillor Jason Zadrozny, said the scheme was a watse of public money, and called for Councillor Cutts to quit.
He said: “I am not surprised at all by this announcement but concerned nearly £250,000 of public money has been spent on a needless process.
“I am today taking the regrettable step of calling for her resignation as leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.
“We all have a duty to protect the public purse. Councillor Cutts has failed to do this and now should admit liability and do the honourable thing and step aside.
“At a time when council finances are in such a perilous state – she decides to spend hundreds of thousands on a botched scheme.
“This is a personal vindication for our stance to protect services in Ashfield. Thousands of residents got in touch opposing these plans yet Kay Cutts ploughed ahead with this regardless.
“Councillor Cutts knew she would lose the vote and I am afraid she has lost the confidence of members from all parties.”
Cllr Cutts said she accepted her view was “not universally supported” and said the decision followed a meeting with district council leaders and chief executives.
She said: “I have listened to all the voices on my own and opposition benches and decided to pause and take more time to reflect.
“Nonetheless there is no simple solution to the significant financial challenges we face and savings will still have to be made to close the funding gap. We will need to consider radical solutions and not just look at back office functions.”
Labour leader Councillor Alan Rhodes said: “This has just been badly handled from the start. She didn’t listen to anybody about these plans – it was just her way or the highway.
“She’s been dismissive and offensive about district councils, and now she expects them to get round a table and talk about a way forward. I think those relationships will take a long time to mend.
“Her credibility has been severely damaged, the county’s credibility has been damaged, and there has to be a question about the right person to take this forward in the future.
“The decision to pull the vote is everything to do with the fact she might have lost.”
Asked whether the decision to pull the vote – which was due to be held on Thursday – was because she thought she might lose, Councillor Cutts said: “Not at all. This is an opportunity to keep talking to people. This is a long process – I’ve always said it’s a long process – and it gives us the opportunity to keep talking to people.
“We had the first, I felt, productive meeting on Wednesday last week (with the district and borough councils). Up until then it had been very much ‘we don’t want you to do this’, but this was a very productive meeting.
“There was a real willingness to help us find a way through this and a coming together, in fact to quote one district chief executive ‘things will never be the same again’. And they won’t.
“We still have to find £64 million in savings. It hasn’t gone away and there aren’t any easy solutions.”