80% of local people say a County Unitary is the wrong plan at the wrong time

A cross-party group of all local district and borough council Leaders have united to call for a rethink over Hertfordshire County Council’s plan for one single authority for its 1.2 million residents.

Residents in every part of Hertfordshire are opposed to the creation of a large county wide ‘unitary’ council. This is according to an opinion poll of more than 2,000 people across the county. The poll, carried out by the respected national polling company, Survation.  shows that an overwhelming 80% of residents in Hertfordshire believe the county unitary proposal is the wrong approach at the wrong time.   

In a telephone survey, carried out between 22 September and 3 October, targeting residents aged 18 and over living in Hertfordshire, Survation sampled 2,030 people to understand their views on proposals to create a single unitary council.  

 Key findings were:

  • 59% of residents strongly opposed the creation of a single unitary council across the county, with only 12% saying it was something they would support.
  • 80% of people believe their area would be better served by a local council than a single county wide unitary
  • Four in five people said now is not the right time to make changes to the structure of local government
  • When asked about services currently provided by District Councils, such as refuse collection and housing, 75% of residents said these would be better delivered by their local council than a single county wide unitary
  • 76% of residents were concerned that their voice may not be heard by a county wide unitary  

Responses to the five key questions in the poll are included in the background notes, along with a link to the full data tables.    

The survey was commissioned jointly by local District and Borough Councils in the county area who say local people should be consulted before there are changes to long established local government structures. The poll was carried out with a minimum sample size of 200 in each district or borough area in Hertfordshire, to gauge views; in Broxbourne, Dacorum, East Hertfordshire, Hertsmere, North Hertfordshire, St Albans, Stevenage, Three Rivers, Watford and Welwyn Hatfield. 

The ‘County Unitary’ plan had been publicly advocated by the Leader of the County Council in recent months.  District and borough councils expressed deep concern at the move, saying that the middle of a pandemic is not the right time to change council structures and any future proposals should be developed collaboratively by all the councils, in consultation with local people.   

In a joint statement, Leaders of the district and borough councils said:

The Survation Poll is a very clear verdict on the County Unitary plans.  Our local residents are overwhelmingly opposed to a County Unitary and we agree with them that it is the wrong approach at the wrong time. The poll confirms the strong feedback we have been receiving locally that people do not believe that a single unitary authority for 1.2million people is right for Hertfordshire - our residents, our businesses and our towns and communities.

COVID-19 has shown us that localised solutions are often the most effective, and the spirit of devolution is that democratic decisions affecting people’s lives should be made where they are most effective and have the greatest impact, rather than in potentially unwieldy and arbitrary ‘super councils’.

Our view is, and particularly in time of a global health crisis, to continue to work together through our established and respected Herts Growth Board, comprising all the districts and boroughs of Hertfordshire, along with the county council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, to move forward collectively in the interests of all our communities. 

“By listening to our people, continuing to support our communities through the COVID pandemic, we will achieve economic recovery and stability for our residents and businesses far quicker.

Lewis Cocking, Leader of Broxbourne Council said:

The poll results have shown what we already knew. The residents of Broxbourne and the wider county do not want an unwieldy giant of a council, which will be unable to meet their needs. Broxbourne deserves better and the timing of this couldn’t be worse given the current pandemic.

Local issues should stay local.

Broxbourne’s results were as follows

  • 61% opposed the move to a single, countywide unitary serving all of Hertfordshire instead of the current 10 districts and county council
  • Just 6% thought Broxbourne would be better served by a single, large Hertfordshire-wide council, with over four out of five (81%) preferring how things are currently with their more local council 
  • More than three quarters (78%) of residents surveyed didn’t think this is the right time to make changes to local government
  • 77% thought district/borough councils, like Broxbourne, are best at delivering services such as refuse collection and housing rather than a single countywide unitary
  • 75% of Broxbourne respondents thought their voice may not be heard in a county-wide unitary

Background

  • Hertfordshire is split into 10 district and boroughs, where local councils provide a range of services – such as planning, environmental health, refuse and recycling collection, housing and licensing.  Alongside these district and borough councils, the county council provides services such as education, libraries, social care, highways – and the fire service.
  • Districts and boroughs view the ‘Growth Board’ as a framework for effective partnership with the County Council.   The Growth Board brings together the 11 local councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership and has been highly effective in accelerating the delivery of 100,000 additional homes by 2031, adding £9billion of economic value to the UK economy, creating 100,000 new jobs by 2030 and unlocking £5billion of private sector investment.

Poll details

The five questions asked were:

  1. Hertfordshire County Council has proposed replacing all of Hertfordshire's district and borough councils with a single council that would represent the entire county and its 1.2 million residents. The County Council leader has said that this would provide financial savings. However, the proposal is opposed by all 10 district and borough council leaders from all political parties, who say it would become the biggest council in the country, too large and remote from local communities they are there to serve. To what extent do you support or oppose the proposal to create a single unitary council replacing the current county council and the 10 local district and borough councils?
  2. Given the immediate and anticipated longer lasting social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which of the following statements best reflects your view?
  3. In your view, would your local area be better served by a single large unitary Hertfordshire-wide council, or by a local council as it is currently?
  4. District and borough councils currently provide their local areas with services relating to refuse collection and housing. In your view, would the quality of these services be better served by a single large unitary Hertfordshire-wide council, or by a local council as it is currently?
  5. To what extent, if at all, would you be concerned that if Hertfordshire was overseen by a single Hertfordshire wide unitary council, your voice may not be heard on local issues?

LINK TO SURVATION DATA TABLES

Published: October 13th 2020