‘Absolute power should worry everyone’ – Welwyn Hatfield opposition leader’s view on unitary idea being floated
PUBLISHED: 13:57 20 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:30 21 July 2020
A Labour opposition councillor has accused the county council of a power grab after the Conservative leaders of Welwyn Hatfield and Hertsmere Borough Councils said they will oppose any moves to create a unitary authority.
If a single Hertfordshire County Council was to be responsible for planning, bin collection and housing, currently carried out by our boroughs, then Welwyn Hatfield council would cease to exist.
Welwyn Hatfield Labour group leader, Cllr Kieran Thorpe, said: “[HCC] have always seen our borough as the fall guy when closing down schools, privatising libraries or wasting millions of pounds trying to build an incinerator here – whatever your political views, the prospect of them being given absolute power should worry everyone.
“Its disgraceful that faced with the reality of councils that have been underfunded for decades, in the wake of their huge contribution to supporting the community during the pandemic, the government clearly would rather axe local councils entirely.
“One minute the government is saying councils will get ‘whatever they need’ and just a few weeks later they are stealthily trying to get rid of us. It wasn’t long ago it was all about ‘localism’ and ‘taking back control’, but tellingly, residents will have no say in this at all.
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“I know that many people will shrug their shoulders and wonder what difference this will make, but this would be a disaster for local accountability and democracy. However bad people may feel about the way things are now, this will only make it worse.
“Who will people complain to or seek support from? Some distant politician who hasn’t a clue about Welwyn Hatfield let alone a care about your problems because there are 1.2 million other residents that their grotesquely large council covers?”
Liberal Democrat group leader for Welwyn Hatfield Cllr Malcolm Cowan also pointed out that given the large area Herts covers – which is dominated by mainly Conservative councillors – “on every issue, we would be outvoted by councillors from elsewhere”.
Currently, the Lib Dems and Labour – with a combined 25 councillors – can out-vote Conservatives – with 23 councillors – at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.
Cllr Cowan added: “It is telling that the statement was signed by leaders from all three political parties; such unanimity indicates what a poor idea this is. Any potential change must be clearly written down and given plenty of time to be discussed. This is clearly just the whim of a few councillors determined to steamroller something through.
“A unitary of this size would be very remote. Imagine having your planning application decided by councillors from Royston, Rickmansworth and other distant parts.
“What future is there for our council housing service when the majority of Herts councils do not run a housing service as we do?”
HCC has not denied the claims that they are seeking to move to a unitary council, and said in a statement: “Hertfordshire County Council values the importance of strong working relationships and collaboration across the whole public sector in Hertfordshire.
“The environment in which all councils find themselves we recover from the pandemic, requires us to explore how we best organise ourselves to continue to meet the needs of our residents and provide the most effective support for the county’s economic recovery.
“We are just at the start of those considerations and look forward to working with all councils in Hertfordshire to determine our best way forward.”
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