A ‘DAFT’ proposal from UKIP was roundly rejected by West Sussex County Council on Friday.
The party tabled a motion at the full council meeting for unitary authority status, scrapping the district and borough councils in the county.
“In this county, there are eight main councils, seven chief officers, seven finance officers and a whole raft of very highly paid executives, all multiplied by seven,” said the county’s UKIP leader Michael Glennon.
“UKIP believes this multiple should be reduced to one. We live in an age of austerity and this county council proposes budget reductions of £141m.”
He claimed the move would save £25m for the council.
However, independent councillor Gordon McAra compared the motion to a previous one from the party where they tried to get the EU flag removed from county hall.
“I thought the UKIP motion on the Europe flag was daft, but I think this one is actually beating that in its proposal,” he told the chamber.
“I actually find the concept of West Sussex as a unitary authority very scary. The thought of all the money and all the resources and facilities concentrated in the hands of eight people is not good. The scale is too large. There’s a demand for a local government that’s closer to communities rather than further away.”
Mr Glennon cited examples of Wiltshire and Shropshire, which adopted unitary status, adding the ‘proven formula’ meant the council would recoup its loss within 12 to 15 months but council leader Louise Goldsmith was highly sceptical, describing it as a ‘fanciful idea’.
“Mr Glennon talks about the figures. I have to say, having been in big industries I’ve seen mergers and my experience is that profits don’t come through on those figures and I would like to actually check those figures,” she told him.
She said it would be disruptive and divisive, at a time when the county council had good relationships with the other boroughs and districts.
Other councils cited the diverse nature of West Sussex as making a single authority power unrealistic, an assertion which Cllr Glennon described as ‘quite bizarre’.
“I feared at the outset that the mood would be one of protecting the status quo rather than trying to push forward and trying to be innovative. I wish I could say I’m surprised but I sadly am not,” he said as every single councillor bar UKIP voted against the motion.
Originally, councillor James Walsh of the Liberal Democrats had proposed a similar motion, in recognition of the ‘considerable reduction in local government income’, which would have seen a committee created to investigate the benefits.
However, the Lib Dems agreed to support an amendment from the leader, which was approved by the chamber. This will see a public debate launched on the issue of unitary authorities for West Sussex, involving residents, partners and interested stakeholders.
Speaking afterwards, UKIP councillor Graham Jones described the move as ‘kicking it into the long grass’.