Cllr Hardy's letter on county merger

September 5, 2007 2:22 PM
By Derek Hardy in Brentwood Gazette

So Brentwood borough is now set to lose its identity in a virtual amalgamation with a county council which has a hundred times its budget and a hundred times more clout! This marriage of inconvenience involving the appointment of the Essex county chief executive also as chief executive of Brentwood council might bring into play conflicts of interest in which the larger partner would likely prevail. This experiment could go badly wrong.

In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Brentwood was involved in negotiations with other local districts to form a unitary authority. In order not to lose its identity, Brentwood council applied to the Queen for borough status. A charter was granted and the council appointed its first mayor.

Amalgamation with Basildon district was not favoured by the public. In the end the Government decided to make only Southend and Thurrock into unitary authorities. Brentwood was to remain proudly independent.

To be 'tacked on' to a larger authority like Essex is a very doubtful blessing. This happened in the earlier days of the National Health Service when Brentwood was tacked on to the large London boroughs of Barking and Havering to form a health authority which was often felt to marginalise Brentwood and give it a poor deal. The health authority ran down and threatened the existence of the community hospital.

Brentwood council spent a few millions of its own money in order to keep our local hospital open. Similar major conflicts of interest have arisen in the past with the county council over highways, public transport and the Leca landfill site.

The county council is run on very different lines to Brentwood. At county level, cabinet members make the decisions. In Brentwood, power still lies with individual councillors voting in committee. Brentwood's independence lies in the council's structure as well as in its borough charter.

Let the people of Brentwood borough decide.

DEREK HARDY

Liberal Democrat member for Brizes and Doddinghurst Ward