New county council leader won’t advocate for unitary council reform

County councillor Richard Roberts

County councillor Richard Roberts - Credit: Herts County Council

The new leader of Hertfordshire County Council has made it clear that he will not be pushing for local government reform in Hertfordshire. 

Hertfordshire currently operates on a two-tier system of local government – with 10 district and borough councils and one county council. 

But there have been suggestions that replacing them all with a single ‘unitary’ council could save up to £142million a year. 

Last year former county council leader David Williams highlighted the government’s wish for two-tier authorities – such as Hertfordshire – to move to a unitary model. 

He pointed to the ‘cost, complexity and overlap’ in the current system, and said that structural reform could deliver improved and more efficient services – as well as making substantial savings. 

But speaking at the meeting of the annual meeting of the county council on Tuesday (May 25), newly elected council leader Cllr Richard Roberts made it clear he would not be pushing for reform. 

He said that, from his perspective, it was "not on the agenda". 

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“In terms of Hertfordshire it isn't broke,” he said, in response to a question from leader of the Labour group Cllr Judi Billing. 

“We work well together. We get on well together. We plan together.” 

Cllr Roberts pointed to the successes of the Hertfordshire Growth Board and the Health and Wellbeing Board as good examples of collaboration. 

He also suggested that could be improved further through closer working on the Hertfordshire Waste Partnership. 

“These are the things that will demonstrate to government that we don’t need to be ‘done to’ – that we can decide our own future and that we can determine whether our future looks like,” he said. 

“However, if government determines that we are going to be reformed, then we will have to take that into account.” 

Cllr Roberts said that with Brexit and the pandemic to deal with it was understandable that the government withdrew from local government reform. 

But he stressed that he would not be advocating for it to return. 

“At this juncture where we still have a pandemic, where we have a national economic recovery, we have got to build out of COVID and where we really need to focus on our agenda to get Hertfordshire going again, I don’t think reform right now is on the table,” he said. 

“And I am not advocating for it. 

The response was said to be greeted by applause from all political parties at the meeting, which was the first in-person meeting of the county council and which was held at the Gordon Craig Theatre, in Stevenage. 

In response Cllr Billing asked Cllr Roberts to make it clear to regional growth and local government Minister Luke Hall that the view is now different – and that Hertfordshire is not putting itself forward as a single unitary authority. 

“You were applauded by all sides for that response – keep with it,” she said.