Bid to scrap district councils, including Winchester, defeated

Hampshire Chronicle: County council leader Roy Perry County council leader Roy Perry

A BID by UKIP to investigate the possibility of scrapping borough and district councils in Hampshire has today been stopped in its tracks.

Councillors from the anti-EU party tabled a motion at a full county council meeting to press ahead with an official probe into how much would be saved by having just one big unitary authority.

Newly elected UKIP Fareham county councillor Christopher Wood argued millions would be saved by unifying the councils under one roof as shown in Wiltshire which introduced a unitary council in 2009.

It saved a total of £68 million in just four years, which Cllr Wood said absorbed the £18m transitional costs in just two and a half years.

He said: "It may be the case that becoming a unitary authority is what is required to make even greater savings as all of our budgets continue to shrink.

"I think we can make Hampshire leaner, meaner and more efficient.

"I also believe having just one service provider will benefit our residents.

"All too often residents just don’t know which council provides which service and trying to find out isn’t always easy."

But councillors from across the political divide rallied today to defeat the motion.

If it had been carried it would have paved the way for a probe into the possibility of ditching the county council as well as all Hampshire's smaller local councils.

Cllr Roy Perry, leader of the Tory led county council, dismissed UKIP's bid for the inquiry as a waste of officers' time and public money - especially when money was tight.

He also claimed the idea of unitary authorities was undemocratic, comparing it to the government of North Korea.

He said: "They (UKIP) want to abolish the ability of local councils to deal with their own affairs."

Rejecting the motion, county councillor and leader of Fareham Borough Council Sean Woodward said an inquiry was a distraction from the real aims of local authorities. He added: "They should be focusing on the delivery of services."

Among the councils that would disappear if a unitary council was introduced would be New Forest District Council, Test Valley Borough Council, Eastleigh Borough Council, Winchester City Council and Fareham Borough Council and Gosport Borough council.

The county council would also vanish. 

This would exclude Southampton and Portsmouth, which are already unitary authorities and are completely independent of Hampshire County Council.

A majority of 57 councillors from all parties defeated the motion by voting for an amendment by county children's services boss and Lyndhurst councillor Cllr Keith Manns.

It said the status quo should be maintained and savings should be found by working together.

But speaking afterwards, Cllr Wood, who at 24 is the youngest county councillor, said: "All we were asking was for officers to investigate. It is not to say we are in favour (of a unitary system), the whole point was for officers to look at it."

He added: "Quite often other parties don't want a UKIP motion regardless of want it is.

"They're terrified of us."

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