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A failed merger between Warwick and Stratford councils has cost district taxpayers nearly £160,000.
Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western says the Conservative leaderships of the district councils have spurned the money despite years of council tax rises and a cost-of-living crisis.
But Warwick District Council, in response to Mr Western’s Freedom of Information request, has insisted the long-term savings gained from combining services will leave it in a ‘net-beneficial position.’
A combined sum of £320,000 was spent by the two councils on the merger before it broke down – including nearly £160,000 by Warwick District Council.
Councillors backed plans in December to merge services with neighbouring Stratford District Council ahead of the creation of a South Warwickshire authority by 2024.
The decision came after the councils’ costly public consultation which conveyed no clear-cut support for the proposal.
Mr Western launched his own petition calling for a referendum to enable the public to have the final say on any local government restructuring in the region. It gained nearly 1,800 signatures.
The council insists cost savings – including from combining waste services, having a joint Local Plan for housing and development, and instating a joint legal team – will leave it more than £1m better off over the next several years.
It also conceded that only £10,000 in savings have so far been achieved.
Mr Western says the loss of at least £157,559 at this time is a huge blow to the public – while it remains to be seen whether savings will be realised.
He also says he’s concerned the breakdown of the merger will pave the way for Warwickshire County Council to form a unitary authority.
“I’ve opposed this ill-fated merger from the start and, though no doubt savings will be made, in this difficult moment our taxpayers need stability, security and wise investment,” said Mr Western.
“Residents have endured rising council tax for more than a decade and national tax rises will also hit them hard.
“A lot of the services the council says will result in savings involve billing the public anyway, like the 123+ bin collection service.
“These are additional income streams not mentioned by the Conservatives in their 2019 manifesto.
“Other stealth taxes have been announced like the rise in car parking and parking permits costs, as well as rent rises, and service charge increases from April.
“Meanwhile price hikes for buses, trains, shopping, petrol, gas and electricity are crippling families.
“This was a massive gamble taken by the council to win a local Conservative Party power game – taking precedent over the prosperity of residents.
“Any changes should have been put to the people in a referendum.”
Warwick District Council leader Andrew Day took questions from councillors last week about the failure of the merger – with many in favour of it blaming Stratford’s leadership for its breakdown.
“Irreconcilable differences” and concerns over Warwick District Council’s wholly owned housing company Milverton Homes were cited as reasons for Stratford pulling out of the deal.
Mr Western says the liability for any losses associated with Milverton Homes may have put Stratford off committing to the merger.
As part of the total cost, Warwick District Council paid £22,000 for a joint report into the merger by consultancy firm Deloitte, £31,750 for the public consultation and around £12,000 for a report on a new shared office.
A request to cancel the planned merger will now be submitted to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.