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21st Jan, 2022

Stratford and Warwick district councils agree to pursue merger plans

Editorial Correspondent 14th Dec, 2021 Updated: 14th Dec, 2021

STRATFORD and Warwick district councils have agreed to pursue a political merger.

Both respective full councils at the Conservative-controlled authorities this week voted in favour of a proposal to join forces to form a new single South Warwickshire Council.

The business case will now be presented to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, with the aim to create a South Warwickshire Council by April 2024.

The new authority would carry out services such as waste collection, planning, housing, management of parks and sports facilities, licensing, business support and environmental health – currently delivered separately by the two authorities.

Government funding for councils across the country has reduced in recent years leaving them facing uncertain and challenging financial futures.

It has been estimated that combined, the currently Conservative-controlled Stratford and Warwick councils face a shortfall of around £9million a year.

Coun Tony Jefferson, leader of Stratford District Council (SDC) said: “This is a major historic decision on the future of local government in South Warwickshire. By taking this major strategic decision we are demonstrating our desire to control our own destiny. We believe this is the best decision for the benefit of our residents.

“The Covid pandemic has had an enormous impact on our communities and the council. This proposal to create a South Warwickshire District Council together with Warwick gives us the opportunity to safeguard our services into the future as well as helping us respond to any new challenges coming down the line. There is already considerable synergy between the two councils and, over time, the savings in costs will be substantial with significant benefits to residents from the integration.

“I’m sure our decision will have national significance and will provide a benchmark for other authorities looking to merge.

“The first crucial decision has been made, but the journey continues and there will be a lot of hard work ahead as it will be another two years before the new council comes into existence if agreed and approved.”

His counterpart at Warwick District Council (WDC), Coun Andrew Day, was equally convinced a merger was the way forward.

He said: “I am immensely proud that our councillors have come to this brave and historic decision to go ahead and to build a new council and shape our own destiny for the future of local government in South Warwickshire.”

“The widely recognised need for change has not only been identified, but is now being acted upon and now working with Stratford-on-Avon District Council we can start to build a vibrant, new, agile and strong council to serve all our residents.”

“I want to thank councillors, stakeholders and residents for the many hours they have dedicated and insightful comments they have contributed.”

But not everyone is in favour.

All of WDC’s eight Green Party members voted against the proposal.

Green group leader Coun Ian Davison said: “By pushing on with these merger plans, the Conservative-led administration seems to want years of reorganisation and rebranding rather than focusing on the real services people care about, recovering from Covid and dealing with the climate crisis.

“There are savings to be had from working with Stratford on practical things like bin collection, but these are happening anyway. Other potential savings like improving IT systems don’t need this merger.

And Warwick and Leamington Labour MP Matt Western fears the merger would undermine democracy. He has called for a referendum on whether to pursue the merger or to consider alternative options.

Following the debate on the proposal, 26 members of SDC voted for the merger, three voted against and there were two abstentions.

In Warwick, 23 members voted for the merger, 12 voted against and there were five abstentions.

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