District council leaders are set to meet next week to discuss a potentially major shake-up in the Gloucestershire local authority system, writes Leigh Boobyer.

The leaders of the six district councils will meet to find consensus ahead of a speculated Government plan to scrap district and county councils in favour of a single authority.

It was claimed by some of Gloucestershire’s council leaders that Government ministers are planning to reorganise English local government in a white paper set for publication in September.

The devolution white paper would see county and district councils – the top tiers of authority – be invited to propose merging their powers.

Cotswold District Council leader Joe Harris told the LDRS they’re meeting to “chew the fat” next week to prepare for the issue moving forward, and that they’re looking at all the options.

Mr Harris and Forest of Dean District Council leader Tim Gwilliam said one option they were looking at was two unitary authorities – forming an “East and West Gloucestershire”.

Mr Harris said it could mean a split between Gloucester, Stroud and the Forest of Dean alongside Cheltenham, Cotswold and Tewkesbury.

The final decision on any unitary council proposals will be made by the Secretary of State for Local Government once a business case is brought forward.

Several councils in England are already looking to replace local authorities with a new unitary council to save money, such as Somerset which set out its business case for one single council earlier this month.

The final decision on any unitary council proposals will be made by the Secretary of State for Local Government.

The LDRS asked the leaders of the county’s seven authorities their views on the potential merger of councils, and this is what they said. 

Cotswold District Council leader Joe Harris (LD) said: “We are meeting to look at other options. Clearly the default in Gloucestershire would be a county-wide unitary authority. What we are looking at is there a better alternative.

“We know that many residents here in the Cotswolds and other districts around the county think Shire Hall in Gloucester is remote. The question you have got to ask yourself is ‘what does Lechlade in the far corner of our district have in common with somewhere like Coleford in terms of those locality issues?’. It’s probably not a lot.

“The main thing that is prevailing is probably a two unitary system that could perhaps of an East or a West Gloucestershire. But it is early days and we want to make sure we look at all the options that might be available. But certainly a frontrunner at the moment is the two-unitary system.

“We’re thinking Cheltenham, Cotswold and Tewkesbury as one unitary authority and Gloucester, Stroud and the Forest of Dean as the other. In terms of the Government criteria, the numbers would make sense. We are assuming in that that the council would look at the current district boundaries. But we want to look at all the options.

“If there was to be some sort of county-wide unitary you would have to look at how you can improve localism and make decisions closer to the people. What we don’t want is a like a super-state that is massive and decision-making feels a long way aware.

“We are going to chew the fat and see if there is any consensus among district leaders about a way forward.”

Gloucestershire County Council leader Mark Hawthorne (C) added: “The Government is working on a white paper, which isn’t even due to be published until September.

“I’m not going to speculate on rumours about what that might say before then, or get distracted from the really important jobs of beating Covid and working to get Gloucestershire back on its feet again.”

Stroud District Council leader Doina Cornell was approached for comment.