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Members of Southend’s cabinet have expressed serious concerns about Essex County Council’s plan to have all district and county councils removed and replaced with up to four unitary authorities that oversee the whole of Essex.
The plan represents one of the biggest shake-ups of Essex governance in decades and could effectively eliminate Southend Council in its current form, sparking alarm from local councillors.
But when the proposals were outlined to Simon Clarke, secretary of state for regional growth and local government, Mr Clarke told the county council he “warmly” welcomes the plan and it will be discussed further in the autumn.
Labour council leader Ian Gilbert has said he is “deeply uncomfortable” with what is being proposed.
He said: “Essex County Council has, off their own back, done a significant amount of work to prepare a case which they believe is appropriate model for governance in Essex.
“But many leaders, myself included, are deeply uncomfortable with the approach Essex is taking and the lack of meaningful engagement with districts and ourselves and a unitary authority in Greater Essex.”
The main concern for councillors is that if Southend Council is merged into a larger authority which is headquartered outside of the borough, the borough will have less change of proper investment or funding.
Councillor Martin Terry (Ind) said: “The county has forgotten once again that we are an upper tier authority and in statutory terms we are at the same table as them yet they treat us without any consultation and almost in distain.
“There is great concern that we are going to end up being swallowed up into something where we have no control.
“We cant let Essex control the agenda as it is all about them trying to retain power, but we are equal to them.”