There is a proposal that the City, District, and County Councils in Oxfordshire join together to form a new Unitary Council.

On Friday a team of MLMC trustees met with the Leader of Oxford City Council, Bob Price (who opposes the plans) and reps from Oxfordshire County Council to hear the different points of view. After a debate and a positive exchange of views the MLMC trustees considered their position.

This is what we think

The trustees decided that MLMC should take a neutral view on the different ideas of how the Oxfordshire councils should be organised.

The trustees thought the issue was political and that MLMC should not be seen to be supporting any particular political party. The trustees have developed strong, supportive and valuable relationships with officers and councillors from the county council, district councils and city council; they did not want to jeopardise this.

The funding of our charity came up in discussion, and although MLMC receives more funding from the county council the trustees are also aware that Oxford City Council, Vale of White Horse, South Oxfordshire, and Cherwell had generously supported MLMC for many years. They also appreciate the personal attention that councillors such as Bob Price, Judith Heathcoat, and Ian Hudspeth have given the charity, not to mention the special relationship they feel that they have with county council, city, and district officers.

The trustees liked the sound of the £20 million pa savings being suggested by moving to a unitary council but thought that even if the savings materialised they may not be spent in areas that helped people with learning disabilities.

The trustees were concerned to hear that Ian Hudspeth had been quoted in the Oxford Mail as suggesting that any savings might be used to reduce council tax rather than being spent on health and social care. If there could be a guarantee of £20 million savings that would without fail be invested in health and social care then the trustees would be much more inclined to fully support the unitary proposal. Additionally, the trustees also understood that savings often equated to job losses; the trustees were not supportive of people being forced out of work.

The trustees thought that a unitary council might be a better way of helping people with learning disabilities access the housing that they needed and especially for making sure that their friends were not locked away in those “horrible assessment and treatment units like Winterbourne View, Slade House, and St. Andrews”. This was the point that the trustees were most passionate about.

There was widespread agreement that the current council arrangements provided “better” democracy with easier access to your local representative and that it was more likely that councillors would know and understand their local area and therefore make better decisions for local people.

Trustees also felt that some of the district councils and especially Oxford City Council were very well run and therefore that it would be foolish to “break them up”.

Thank you for including MLMC in this important discussion. The trustees did comment that they suspected that when local government was last significantly reorganised in 1974 that it was highly unlikely that anybody in power was remotely interested in discovering what people with learning disabilities might think about it. They felt that significant progress had been made in this respect.

(Written by Bryan Michell, Charity Coordinator of My Life My Choice, on behalf of the trustees)

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