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Nearly 1,500 people across Warwickshire have now signed my petition for a referendum to have the final say on local government reorganisation in our county.
The petition calls on the councils to set up and advertise a citizens’ assembly in which arguments are outlined for and against the different models of government proposed by our regional councils.
Carefully selected and fully informed residents at the meeting will then decide on the options that should feature on the ballot paper.
After residents take control of the process, we would then put it to the people and stage a referendum to have the final say on whether to pursue the plans – in honour of truly democratic values.
So far decisions have been left to Conservative councillors, government ministers and expensive consultants – rendering the public as merely pawns in Conservative Party power games.
A merger of Conservative-controlled Warwick and Stratford district councils has now been approved by councillors, with an agreement to work towards its formation by 2024.
Plans for a unitary authority across the county have been submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities by Conservative-run Warwickshire County Council. But any decision was delayed due to the pandemic.
The most serious threat is the district council merger which would see residents’ power diluted while it is opposed by 64% of Warwick district respondents to the councils’ own online questionnaire. My petition also has more signatures than there were respondents from our district in the councils’ entire public consultation.
If the proposal from the two districts is approved, the number of councillors serving residents in south Warwickshire would be reduced from 80 to 60 – which could mean it is more likely a councillor from Alcester making decisions on behalf of residents from Woodloes or Whitnash.
Residents need to feel more connected and not detached from political decision-making. We need councils that are more in touch with residents, not larger more distant ones. And we must retain the number of councillors who represent us.
I have taken the fight to Parliament where the Leader of the House appeared to agree that the public should be consulted, calling the idea of merging or disbanding councils a ‘dreadful idea.’ The Department for Communities has been sending me mixed messages in its responses – with ministers now seeming to favour a unitary authority in the county. But not without ‘strong support’ from the public.
Warwick District Council was prepared to stage a referendum to decide whether to adopt a climate change levy in Spring 2020 – and now it must allow the same to decide the size and shape of councils in our region. A vitally important decision for our future.
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