Three councils in Gloucestershire are exploring a two-council devolution deal for the county, which is expected to unlock significant funds to invest in services.
Following the announcement that the Government is expected to release a Devolution and Recovery White Paper in the autumn calling for more unitary councils, combined authorities and Mayors, Cheltenham Borough Council, Cotswold District Council, and Stroud District Council have agreed to start exploring progressive devolution options for Gloucestershire which would see the current seven councils merged into two.
Currently, Gloucestershire County Council provides some services, while district, borough and city councils provide others. Unitary councils bring the delivery of services for one area under one roof.
Cotswold District Council will be the first council to take a paper to Cabinet on 7 September to kick-start the process, and Stroud and Cheltenham councillors are expected to consider a similar proposal very soon after.
In a joint statement, the Leaders of the three councils – Steve Jordan – Cheltenham, Joe Harris – Cotswold, and Doina Cornell – Stroud said:
“The Government has made it clear that it intends to bring forward wide-ranging proposals for reorganisation and devolution for Local Government possibly as soon as September. While we are concerned that the timing of the White Paper isn’t helpful in the midst of a pandemic, we have an over-riding commitment to explore what’s best for our residents and businesses.
“The current system has served and represented our local communities well, but we expect the Government to confirm that if Gloucestershire is to unlock significant future investment, we must accept reorganisation.
“While strong arguments may be put forward for having a large, single unitary council, we believe that an innovative and progressive two council devolution deal should be explored as well to get the best for Gloucestershire.
“As a first step, we will look at two unitary council options centred on creating a future local government model that is efficient and represents our unique urban and rural communities. Two authorities will be closer and more connected to the people they serve, will be better placed to create inclusive growth, tackle climate change and deliver the homes and services we need. For these reasons we believe that a broad East / West reorganisation of Gloucestershire, offers an initial primary option to consider that would meet central government’s criteria.
“But this isn’t just about looking at redrawing council boundaries, we also intend to look at the wider region to explore the potential for Combined Authorities, Mayors and other options to deliver key services – such as trusts to deliver the best outcomes.
“Our intention is to approach this debate with positivity, openness and we welcome partners, County, District, Town and Parish Councils and our communities to join the conversation.”