Devolution has been labelled a ‘white elephant chase’ in West Sussex by UKIP councillors.
The opposition party called for £250,000 for a study to explore a move to unitary authority status to be included in the West Sussex County Council budget for 2017/18, but this was opposed by the ruling Tory administration back in February.
During the debate county council leader Louise Goldsmith referred to a cost of £519m to reorganise public services to create a single unitary authority, but she apologised for not making explicit that this would be to create unitary authorities across all 29 shire counties at a Full Council meeting on Friday March 24.
Michael Glennon (UKIP, Lancing) said she should have made this ‘abundantly clear’, adding: “As leader you must recognise you must give accurate figures otherwise your credibility is damaged.”
He added: “Can she specifically answer why this council has never bothered to ask the public if they would prefer a unitary authority to devolution?”
Mrs Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) replied: “I know the UKIP party having lost the Brexit vote, or rather won and we have got Brexit are maybe looking for a new challenge. Perhaps they ought to change to UKUP, which is the United Kingdom Unitary Party, because the party mentions it quite a lot.”
She described Adur and Worthing councils as a ‘shining example’ of collaboration with minimum disruption to taxpayers, and reminded councillors that the county council still had to save around £100m over the next four years.
She asked: “Why would we look at other things that will distract from that very serious challenge we have to take on and ensure we are delivering services?”
Mr Glennon described devolution as a ‘white elephant chase’, adding: “Why is it you are so resistent to actually investigating properly this massive opportunity because that is what it is.
“I cannot understand why you are so resistent unless it’s because it’s quite simply you do not relish the idea of putting so many of your chums out of council jobs across the three tiers in this county.”
Mrs Goldsmith replied: “I think your comments are quite simply appalling but that just reflects you doesn’t it.”
She denied devolution was a white elephant and described how the county council had ‘done much on collaborative working to drive out savings without huge churn’, raising Horsham District Council’s co-location with the county council at the old County Hall North building.
West Sussex County Council has been working with other public authorities across Sussex and Surrey on the Three Southern Counties devolution bid, but progress appears to have stalled after the EU referendum result.
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