Unitary Devon- EDDC wants residents to have a say

PUBLISHED: 13:37 28 April 2009 | UPDATED: 09:04 18 June 2010

ENCOURAGED by recent successes in the High Court and Appeal Court and a massive vote of confidence from a previous opinion survey, East Devon District Council is again writing to residents inviting them to give their own, final verdict...........

ENCOURAGED by recent successes in the High Court and Appeal Court and a massive vote of confidence from a previous opinion survey, East Devon District Council is again writing to residents inviting them to give their own, final verdict on proposals for the biggest shake-up in the delivery of public services in Devon in almost 40 years.

The Council has twice seen its Unitary challenge backed by the Judiciary, notably recouping part of its legal costs. As the 14 May final deadline for comments on the Boundary Committee's two latest proposals draws near, EDDC is asking residents to send a second clear message to the Government about what they want to see.

Councillor Ray Franklin, Deputy Leader of EDDC, said: "In a misguided bid to save money, the Government wants to scrap all Devon's district and county councils and replace them by April 2010 with one, possibly two, remote, unrepresentative organisations.

"A unitary Devon would mean a catastrophic erosion of democracy, with one councillor to every 7,400 people - the worst democratic representation in England, bar none".

Councillor Franklin said residents of East Devon had already given a big thumbs-down to the original proposal for a single Devon Unitary Council - by 99% to 1% - in a postcard vote. And the majority of people who voted on the Boundary Committee's website also gave it a resounding No. But the Government will not take NO for an answer and have now come back with two options - the same single Devon Unitary council or an Exeter/Exmouth Unitary within a Devon Unitary.

He added: "The financial case for these two options has not been made and there are serious doubts as to whether the huge upfront costs would ever be recouped. This radical change would mean a wholesale disruption of service delivery and a serious erosion of democracy in Devon.

If you need to see a live example of what the change could mean in Devon, just look across the Tamar to Cornwall, where a new Unitary Cornwall Council came into being on 1 April. The set-up costs trebled from the original estimate of £19 million to more than £60 million. Imagine if the £74 million estimated set-up costs for Devon were to treble in the same way...

"Some former district residents in Cornwall have seen their council tax bill go UP! Hardly surprising when you consider that Cornwall's new unitary council spent £1/2 million on re-branding and is now paying salaries and "live away" expenses to some top executives".

Councillor Franklin said EDDC and other Devon districts had their own alternative to the Boundary Committee's proposals. This was the "Third Way" - building on the current successful system where county, districts and parish councils work even more closely than before as part of an "Integrated Devon.

"Some years before this latest review, councils across Devon were already voluntarily working together, sharing services, giving great value for money and delivering real savings without huge upfront costs that may never be recouped. We would like to see this work continue, and expand. It would mean no break-up of Devon and it would deliver the best possible deal for residents, their families and communities. Most importantly, local people will continue to have a truly local councillor for their area".

The three options are set out in a letter EDDC is sending to every household this week (week ending 1 May). The Council is again asking people to indicate their preference on a postcard and send it back to EDDC for forwarding on to the Boundary Committee.

Councillor Franklin added: "If, as we fear, this serious threat to democracy in Devon comes about, this postcard survey may be the last chance people get to have a really decisive impact on the way local government in the county is run in future. I would urge our residents to send back their reply-paid postcards in large numbers and to get them back to us well before the 11 May deadline".

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