A Conservative council leader has confirmed that he expects to see “the end of two-tier local government” – a move which would see district and borough councils in Hertfordshire scrapped.

Hertfordshire County Council leader David Williams confirmed in a virtual meeting this morning (Tuesday) to councillors that there has been a “pressure for change” in local government following the “substantial impact” that coronavirus has had on “our community and economy”.

It comes after Housing Minister Simon Clarke announced the Government would be putting forward proposals this autumn calling for more unitary authorities as part of “transformative plans for economic recovery and renewal”.

Cllr Williams said that Hertfordshire has "strong foundations" to respond to the government's intention to "level up the country", which became "all the more pressing" because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "Our collective ambition across Hertfordshire has been articulated through the work of our growth board and its vision and clear focus on improving outcomes for Hertfordshire residents has been well recieved by the government.

"Our challenge now is to make sure we can secure the neccessary freedoms and felxibilities to make this vision a reality.

"For any deal to be done government will expect to see us take steps towards devolution and establish clearer and more direct accountability."

Watford Observer:

Watford, Hertsmere and Three Rivers, and St Albans are among areas which would lose their council under a unitary authority

If Hertfordshire were to become a unitary authority, it would see all powers and responsibilities be combined into one 'super' council for the whole county.

It currently runs on a two-tier basis, with ten district and borough councils responsible for planning and parks as well as other services like refuse collections and leisure.

The county council is responsible for services including like roads, education, and social care.

Cllr Williams said that there is a “cost, complexity and overlap in the current system”.

Watford Observer:

Cllr David Williams

He said: “We can deliver improved and more efficient services, joined up agendas such as social care and housing that at present require 10 different sets of relationships to be developed.

“We know structure reform could result in substantial savings for the public purse, placing Hertfordshire in a more secure situation in the face of an uncertain financial outlook.

“For my national role as chair of the County Councils Network, made up of 11 unitary county councils and 25 two-tier councils, it’s clear that such is the pressure for change that I expect to see the end of two-tier local government during this parliament.”

The County Councils Network is a cross-party special interest group of the Local Government Association, representing England’s county local authorities.

Read more - Council leaders against plans for single Hertfordshire council

Cllr Williams added that Hertfordshire has achieved a “huge amount” working as a two-tier authority, but “these very structures are fast approaching their limit in terms of the changing economic and social environment”.

He said: “We are faced with some immense challenges, the scale of which we have not seen since the aftermath of World War Two.

“The impact and ongoing response to Covid-19, the incoming recession and its impact on jobs will drive the need for sustainable growth, housing and opportunity for our residents.

“It is important for us to provide clear, collective leadership in Hertfordshire as a place, a strong and clear voice.”

Cllr Williams also hit out at council leaders across the county, who have joined forces in opposing any proposal for a unitary authority in Hertfordshire.

He said: “It is disappointing that district and borough leaders in Hertfordshire seem intent on ruling out options without any consideration of the savings that can be secured for our residents.

“Importantly there is a need to appreciate the lessons learnt from counties that have successfully established new unitary councils such as Durham, Cornwall and most recently Buckinghamshire.”