Merging East Sussex councils into a single unitary authority ‘would not close the funding gap’ for under-pressure services, the leader of Rother District Council has said.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Monday (September 10), council leader Carl Maynard (Con. – Brede) shared his doubts about the benefits of forming a unitary authority in East Sussex.
He had been responding to a question from Liberal Democrat councillor Susan Prochak (Salehurst), who asked if a council merger was being considered as a way of addressing ‘the dire funding position, particularly of East Sussex County Council.’
Currently councils in East Sussex operate under a two-tier system, with local services split between the county council and a number of district and borough councils.
Cllr Maynard, who is also a cabinet member of the Conservative-led East Sussex County Council, said: “It has to be said that unitary authorities are not the golden egg, indeed quite clearly some have been seen to fail.
“The savings which I think you would garner in East Sussex would be somewhat less than many of those that would like to see a single authority think.
“You couldn’t just have a single body, you would still have to have areas of administration and that is why I think the savings wouldn’t be anywhere near as great as some say.
“The reality about East Sussex is we already work very effectively together. We work very well with East Sussex County Council [and] we work very well in terms of the services we share with other districts and boroughs across East Sussex.”
Cllr Maynard also dismissed the idea of splitting East Sussex into two unitary authorities, as the Government requires a population area of 300,000 in order to form such a body.
He said: “That simply wouldn’t happen, that is absolute misinformation. The only way you could have a unitary authority would be if it was the whole of East Sussex.
“I think we at Rother would have an open mind, as we should do, but the savings level you would actually get in here East Sussex would be significantly less [than elsewhere].
“It certainly would not close the funding gap in terms of the savings of East Sussex County Council. In those particular areas where there is significant pressure on services, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it would not close that gap.”
Last month Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd suggested the town should start exploring a bid for unitary status in response to the county council’s financial position.