80% of local people say a County Unitary is the wrong plan at the wrong time

A cross-party group of all local District and Borough Council Leaders have united to call for a rethink over Hertfordshire County Council's plan for one single authority for its 1.2 million residents.

Council offices

Residents in every part of Hertfordshire are opposed to the creation of a large county wide 'unitary' council according to an opinion poll of more than 2,000 people across the county, carried out by the respected national polling company, Survation. The polling shows that an overwhelming 80% of residents in Hertfordshire believe the county unitary proposal is the wrong approach at the wrong time.   

In a telephone survey, carried out between 22nd Sept and 3rd October, targeting residents aged 18+ living in Hertfordshire, Survation sampled 2,030 people to understand their views on proposals to create a single unitary council. 

Key findings were:

· 59% of residents strongly opposed the creation of a single unitary council across the county, with only 12% saying it was something they would support. 

· 80% of people believe their area would be better served by a local council than a single county wide unitary.

· 4 in 5 people said now is not the right time to make changes to the structure of local government.

· When asked about services currently provided by District Councils, such as refuse collection and housing, 75% of residents said these would be better delivered by their local council than a single county wide unitary.

· 76% of residents were concerned that their voice may not be heard by a county wide unitary.  

Responses to the 5 key questions in the poll are included in the background notes, along with a link to the full data tables.    

The survey was commissioned jointly by local District and Borough Councils in the county area who say local people should be consulted before there are changes to long established local government structures. The poll was carried out with a minimum sample size of 200 in each district or borough area in Hertfordshire, to gauge views; in Broxbourne, Dacorum, East Hertfordshire, Hertsmere, North Hertfordshire, St Albans, Stevenage, Three Rivers, Watford and Welwyn Hatfield. 

The 'County Unitary' plan had been publicly advocated by the Leader of the County Council in recent months. District and Borough Councils expressed deep concern at the move, saying that the middle of a pandemic is not the right time to change council structures and any future proposals should be developed collaboratively by all the Councils, in consultation with local people.   

Leader of Welwyn Hatfield Council, Cllr Tony Kingsbury, said:

The county's proposals have the potential to fundamentally change how people are represented at a local level. We felt very strongly that discussions should only continue when we could consider the views of residents - a step absent from county council plans. The message from our communities is clear. But what's most important right now is for local government across Hertfordshire to continue working together - as we are doing so successfully through Herts Growth Board, and in tackling coronavirus - to keep our communities safe, support economic recovery and make a positive difference in the lives of local people.

In a joint statement, Leaders of the District and Borough Councils said:

The Survation Poll is a very clear verdict on the County Unitary plans.  Our local residents are overwhelmingly opposed to a County Unitary and we agree with them that it is the wrong approach at the wrong time. The poll confirms the strong feedback we have been receiving locally that people do not believe that a single unitary authority for 1.2million people is right for Hertfordshire - our residents, our businesses and our towns and communities.

COVID-19 has shown us that localised solutions are often the most effective, and the spirit of devolution is that democratic decisions affecting people's lives should be made where they are most effective and have the greatest impact, rather than in potentially unwieldy and arbitrary 'super councils'.

Our view is, and particularly in time of a global health crisis, to continue to work together through our established and respected Herts Growth Board, comprising all the districts and boroughs of Hertfordshire, along with the county council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, to move forward collectively in the interests of all our communities. 

By listening to our people, continuing to support our communities through the COVID pandemic, we will achieve economic recovery and stability for our residents and businesses far quicker.