No wonder the public get confused by the Unitary debate - because today's shadow boxing between County and City Halls has left me bewildered. County Hall has released figures, apparently early to snatch media attention, showing how their Unitary County proposals will see bills in the City tumbling by £100 a year (see here for more).
I have read the rather limited detail coming our way and the figures do seem to stack up, assuming all savings are passed onto the tax payers (not a bad assuption to make I suppose). Then the Labour rebuttle came that left me equally confused.
Labour's Executive Member for Unitary, Cllr Alan Waters, says that:
A single county unitary would deliver a reduction in council tax – but it would have to make £5 million worth of cuts in services to achieve that. Under the ‘doughnut’ option, council tax would also be reduced but the new councils would still offer service improvements
Nice and simple - so instead of passing on all the savings, a new doughtnut council would hand some back in tax cuts and invest the rest. OK, still with you. Then Cllr Waters says:
The difference in the net savings which would be produced by the two options is marginal, with the single county unitary producing an estimated £24.6 million, compared to the £21.7 million delivered by the two-unitary solution
So the doughnut will produce fewer savings then? So County will have £2.9m more to play with (either as tax cuts or as service investment).
I know that both sides will cling to whatever boosts their case but this arguement is about the application of unitary. Whatever happens to the savings is a matter for the newly elected councils. Cllr Waters can't say, and neither can County, that investment would be made here or tax cut there - because the people who will make those decisions haven't been elected.
So after all this, where am I? Well, as far as I can see there is only one figure we can rely on - the total cost of providing the council; you save more under the County model than the Doughnut model (both sides admit this). So whatever happens to that money, County is cheaper. I suppose other people will have to decide if County Hall or City Hall have a better record in the delivery of services.
Funnily enough, Cllr Waters also argues that, "It is also important to remember the cheapest option is not always the best". I bet he wouldn't be saying that if the figures were reversed! Cost is just one aspect of this whole issue, of course, and it will be interesting to see how the democratic structures match up.