Adopting a new unitary authority system could lead to the election of Hertfordshire's first-ever mayor
Hertfordshire's councils are being reorganized into a unitary authority and this could lead to the appointment of the first elected mayor and a step towards the delegations of authority away from a central government.
The leader of the County Council, David Williams believes that having a single authority instead of the current system of 10 separate district councils that are currently being run in the county offers several “enormous benefits” including the improvement of services. Local estimates suggest that such a move could save the city up to £142m.
Williams also says that not making a move towards this unitary model will prevent the country from fully benefiting from the ongoing devolution of power from a central government.
One of the expected consequences of such a move is the creation of a new role of an elected county mayor. Other counties in the neighborhood like Cambridgeshire and Peterborough already have a similar system in place and there are strong indications from the Hertfordshire government of a similar move. A white paper is expected to be published in September that will detail the process.
But the move isn’t without opposition, the district and borough council leaders are in opposition to the move towards a unitary system. But David Williams believes a change towards a unitary system is inevitable and it offers a lot of benefits.
“I have no doubt in my mind that unitary local government can bring enormous benefits in terms of improving services and better value for money,” Councillor Williams says.
He projects the year 2024 as the likely end of the current two-tier system. The tenure of the current parliamentary government will elapse in 2024. The two-tier system that is currently being run includes 10 district councils and a county council both with different responsibilities. Unifying the system will see services like housing, licensing, environmental health, planning, social care, education, and the fire services under the control of a single council.
For a countyas large as Hertfordshire up to two or three unitary councils could be formed, although Williams thinks having one unitary council will have several strategic and financial benefits.
Cllr Williams does not agree with popular concerns about the feasibility of a single council. He points to the possibility of establishing area boards and the designation of some responsibilities to existing town councils. Williams beliefs that clinging to the existing system will hold Hertfordshire back from accessing greater powers and a major part of the future could be the election of a mayor for the county.
Counties with elected mayors typically get additional powers in the areas of infrastructure delivery, transport, and planning and Williams says he does not want Hertfordshire to “lose out” on any of these as well.