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Page last updated at 07:49 GMT, Thursday, 9 September 2010 08:49 UK
Have your say: Come back Avon County Council?

John Savage
John Savage says one council would be more sensible than four

A leading business figure says Bristol and Bath's unitary authorities should be merged to save money.

John Savage, the joint managing director of GWE Business West, said having one council would mean less expenditure on administration.

He was speaking at a BBC West spending cuts debate which will feature on BBC One on Thursday at 10.35pm.

Mr Savage is involved in organisations including the West of England Partnership, Young Bristol, Business West, Business Link and the Regional Development Agency.

"Do people really want to die in the trenches defending the right not to include Bristol in their address," Mr Savage said.

"Or would the achievement of a better place for our children and our grandchildren more usefully exercise our passions and energies?"

Avon County Council came into existence on 1 April 1974 when the reforms of the Local Government Act of 1972 came into effect.

Spending squeeze

Avon brought Bristol, Bath, parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset under one unitary authority.

It was abolished in 1996 to be replaced by Bristol City, South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset councils.

But those four councils are now facing a squeeze on spending, with the union Unison saying Bristol alone could shed about 1,000 jobs.

We've certainly lost out because of wrangling at the borders of local government - so we've lost at least two tram systems.
John Savage

But Mr Savage said "the arithmetic is easy" in his suggestion that one council could do the job of the current quartet.

"There are four local authorities: one chief executive instead of four, one childrens' services director instead of four."

And he said although the councils deserved credit for how they have worked together over transport, it was another example of how a single strategy may have been better.

"We've certainly lost out because of wrangling at the borders of local government - so we've lost at least two tram systems.

"Could economies be made by working more closely and could it be done by mutual agreement, as they have tried to do, or would it have to be forced by some major change?"

Liberal Democrat Bristol West MP Stephen Williams said politicians should take the opportunity to take another look at how the region is organised.

"It was botched 14 years ago - it was a rush job then in the dying days of the John Major government - and I think it is time to have another look at it.

"I think Bath belongs with Somerset and I think Weston-super-Mare does as well."

I think if you spot people in the street and ask them where they live they're much more likely to say Bristol than they are Gloucestershire
Stephen Williams MP

Mr Williams added that he believed the people of areas such as Filton and Kingswood had similar opinions.

"I think if you spot people in the street and ask them where they live they're much more likely to say Bristol than they are Gloucestershire."

Chris Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood, told BBC Bristol that he believed local solutions worked better and a huge council would still result in fighting.

"The issue here is if you try to create a political solution that is too big for its own weight then you'd have politicians from Somerset arguing very different arguments to South Gloucestershire and Bristol.

"[It] may mean the money is not then spent effectively."

Nigel Ashton from North Somerset Council said he "disagreed totally" with Mr Savage's argument.

"I think rearranging councils now is just a sticking plaster and I don't think would lead to any more efficiencies than we can provide at the moment through close co-operation.

"And we are doing that - John sits in the West of England board with us and he knows that we do co-operate wherever possible where it makes sense to co-operate."


What do you think of what John Savage has said? Would a return of Avon County Council make sense? Could the councils share resources better? Or are you happy with more local-based councils representing you? We'll publish a selection of comments here..

My bank still thinks I live in Avon according to the stuff they send through the post. It's only been 14 years now! And half the residents of Bath think they live in a county called B&NES. They don't. That's the unitary authority. Since 1996 Bath has been in Somerset, as it was before 1974.
Paul, Bath

I cannot believe what I am hearing about a unitary authority to replace the four areas including Bristol. Has everyone forgotten the monolithic monster called Avon which was split up into these areas - and for the same reasons now proposed ie, efficiency.
John, Weston-super-Mare

I will never stop putting "City & County of Bristol" when asked for my address.
Chris, Bristol

There should be one council for the contiguous urban area of Bristol, i.e. Bristol, Kingswood, Filton, Bradley Stoke etc. Bath should be returned to Somerset; Thornbury, Chipping Sodbury and Yate returned to Gloucestershire.

Authorities like BANES and South Glos are artificial constructs created in the haste to abolish the old county of Avon in 1996. Bristol would vastly benefit from being able to legislate for the whole city, not just part of it.
Steve, Bristol

Avon is dead, as a concept. It didn't work then, and it won't work now. The powers that be are out of touch. Long live Somerset.
Chris, Bristol

I would agree that the present unity authorities are too cumbersome, so get rid of them! Put BANES and North Somerset back where they belong, in Somersetshire county council. Similarly, South Glos should be re-absorbed into Gloucestershire County Council where it also belongs. Bristol, Glos and Somerset really are quite different in many ways, it is quite noticeable when travelling around these areas as I frequently do.
Ian, Kingswood

I was a Councillor on Avon between 1993 & 1996. Avon was a giant that pumped money into Bristol that at the time was Labour dominated to the to the cost of other areas. I said at the time that Avon should remain as a county council but to consider a unitary Authority of the former Avon area is just plain stupid and should be resisted.

A large City the size of Bristol would dominate all the surrounding areas and with all the good will in the world money would be sucked into the centre and outlying areas would suffer as a result. An Avon Unitary Authority? NO! NO! NO!
Tim Ball, Bristol

I worked for Avon CC and now work for one of the new authorities and yes we could have taken on all the work of the then districts with minimal extra staff. But people forget Avon was formed because people hated being on the outer edge of Somerset and Gloucestershire and then hated Avon for not being Somerset and Gloucestershire. We should have been called Wessex County Council and been left to get on with the job.
Russ, Bristol

Bristol, BANES and North Somerset should all belong to Somerset County Council! Somerset is a well run county we should all be proud of.
Shane, Somerset

Bristol has been trying to get its hands on Kingswood for many years, it looks like its in with a chance again under the disguise of Avon Jokey Council. Bristol may be the post town, but that is as far as it should go. Stick within the present boundaries and leave everywhere else well alone!
Kevin, Bristol

Bristol has never been part of either Somerset or Glos. and should be left to its own devices. After all, Bristol is famous for its procrastination and dithering and general poor management, would either Somerset or Glos. really want Bristol ? Yes, put BANES & N. Somerset back where it really belongs, also S. Glos back with Gloucestershire, this would definitely save money.
Ian, Kingswood

Avon County Council was entirely Bristol centric with little or no time spent dealing with the concerns or the needs and wants of those of us who live outside the city. Now, with four unitary districts, we have government that is better able to respond to local issues, but which rarely seems to operate in a way that meets the needs of the region as a whole.

Both issues result from the people who control the councils. As far as I can see there is no local politician who seeks to represent the wider view; rather they all appear to have personal agendas and micro-policies with short term aims for personal engrandisement.

That being the case, there will always be waste of effort, resources and finances. The only thing that would be affected by changing the size of the ruling council, is the size of the waste.
Tim, Yatton

I think Mr Savage has a point, but probably goes a little too far. The problem at the moment is that large areas of Bristol's built up area are contained within neighbouring authorities. I'd advocate an expansion of Bristol's boundaries to take in these areas - making major transport initiatives easier to plan and undertake for example. This would leave North Somerset relatively unaffected, South Glos smaller, but better able to focus on Thornbury, Yate, etc and BANES better able to focus on Bath. As for savings, these should come from more joint working. Other Council's share a Chief Executive for example, there's no reason why that couldn't work in the West.
Peter, Bristol



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