DevComms managing director Rob Allaway considers the future of local government in Buckinghamshire as a fundamental change approaches.

The last full meetings of the Buckinghamshire Council Shadow Authority have now been held ahead of vesting day for the new authority in three weeks’ time.

On April 1, the five existing Buckinghamshire authorities will cease to exist and be replaced by a new unitary authority.

The prospect of a large, single unitary for Bucks was first proposed by the county council. But the journey has been far from smooth, with all the district councils resisting the option in favour of an alternative vision for two unitaries.

The districts gave up the fight early last year, although this left a tight timeframe in which to set up the new authority.

However, much of what is required to have a legally sound and functioning council is now in place, including a £1.1 billion budget and a new constitution which will form the basis of governance of the new council.

This makes provision for a new strategic planning committee and five area planning committees. The area committees are expected to reflect the existing district boundaries, with two committees covering the Aylesbury Vale area.

The planning, growth and sustainability senior management team is all in place, with the new corporate director for planning growth and sustainability, Ian Thompson, having been appointed in January.

The current Local Plans that have been led by the districts will continue to progress but a timetable will be set out by the new authority for a new county wide plan in due course.

The current crossover of Local Enterprise Partnership boundaries within Bucks will be rationalised following the elections with the new authority withdrawing from SEMLEP and focussing on Bucks LEP to ensure that any funding leveraged is focussed on the county. It has also been agreed to set up a new Buckinghamshire Growth Board following May 2020 elections.

A total of 147 councillors will be elected to the new authority in May 2020 but this is likely to be reduced to 98 after five years. Whilst the bones of the new authority are almost in place, it is expected to take up to five years complete the transition from five authorities to one.

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