IN the second part of our look at the big issues in this year’s election campaign, local government reporter Barry Gibson asks party leaders about the radical proposal to split Kirklees Council in two
CONSERVATIVES caused a stir in February when they unveiled their controversial plan to divide Kirklees.
The party wants to create a new Greater Huddersfield council covering the town, the Colne and Holme Valleys, Denby Dale and Kirkburton.
A new Dewsbury and Spen council, would also be created, taking in Mirfield, Batley and Heckmondwike.
The Conservatives proposed that the two new councils should share services such as payroll, human resources and emergency planning with Calderdale Council.
What impact will that debate have on the ballot box on May 3?
Clr Robert Light, who leads the 21-strong opposition Tory group, thinks most voters back his party’s plan to split the council.
“We believe this is what the majority of people in Kirklees want to see,” he said.
“It’s a body with little support from the public and it’s been demonstrated through the Local Development Framework and the schools debacle that Kirklees doesn’t understand the community it’s supposed to serve.
“We want to see two local councils that will serve the local community.
“It’s an issue that’s going to run and run and run as long as there’s a Kirklees. We want a referendum on November 12 – the same day as the police commissioner vote.”
Clr Light believes the efficiencies of working with Calderdale will more than cover the costs of dividing Kirklees.
“The plans that we have produced show that if it’s done properly, you can start making savings in Year 2 of the proposals,” he said.
Clr Light has raised the issue with his party colleague Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government.
“It’s something I’ve discussed with the secretary of state and his view is that we need to make sure it isn’t going to cost any money and show the plan has public support,” he said.
The four-strong Green group also supports splitting Kirklees.
But party leader Clr Andrew Cooper believes there is little chance of the Government allowing the move.
“We’re in favour because we’ve always believed that we should have local government closer to the people,” he said.
“But I get the feeling this is being used by the Conservatives as a bit of a gimmick. I agree with the principle of it but I get the feeling this is a cynical way to wheedle a few more votes.
“Eric Pickles has come out and said he doesn’t want to see any more reorganisation of boundaries.”
The 14-strong Lib Dem group on Kirklees opposes the split plan.
Leader Clr Kath Pinnock believes that dividing Kirklees and then sharing services with Calderdale will lead to a more distant council.
“The proposal is splitting Kirklees and merging with Calderdale” she said.
“What we would end up with is a merged council stretching from Todmorden to Denby Dale which would be less local even than Kirklees is now.
“For me it’s a non-starter. Why would anybody want a system where they would have to pay two council tax bills? One is more than enough.
“It’s just an election gimmick. If you scratch below the surface the idea is not nearly as attractive as it looks.”
Clr Mehboob Khan, who leads the 27-strong ruling Labour group on Kirklees, said the Conservative plan would cost millions.
“The Tory proposals are half-baked and unworkable. They would also be massively expensive and local tax payers would be left to foot the bill,” he said.
“Changing boundaries is not only a very time-consuming business which would involve extra bureaucracy, it requires primary legislation via an Act of Parliament.
“Council officers, acting in a totally impartial and independent way, have looked into what it would cost and the figure was in the region of £50m.
“That includes preparing for the split, forming a shadow authority, set-up costs, information for local people, branding, redundancy costs and winding-up costs.
“Who could possibly favour such a move when council finances are already stretched to the limit?”