FRESH calls have been made for Worcestershire's seven local councils to merge into a single authority after a neighbouring county reported huge savings through a similar scheme.

The newly-formed Shropshire Council has announced a total freeze on council tax for its residents this year and is also ploughing an extra £7 million into front-line services after apparently finding massive savings by merging its various district and county councils. By contrast, local councils across Worcestershire are all increasing council tax by between three and five per cent this year while cutting spending significantly – most notably in Worcester city itself.

A scheme to merge Worcestershire's six district councils and Worcestershire County Council into a single ‘unitary authority’ was rejected in 2006 by Conservatives at County Hall – and now Worcester's Labour MP Mike Foster says that decision has come back to haunt the county.

Mr Foster said: “Shropshire’s experience has proved what can be done to reduce bureaucracy and duplication. It is a sad reflection on the local Conservatives who rejected the chance to save people money. Now we see the cost of such folly.

“Even Worcester City Council’s recent budget woes would have disappeared overnight had they seen the sense of a unitary council. Shropshire has shown the way. It has proved that local councils, not the Government, are responsible for council tax increases this year.”

Mr Foster pointed to a recent report in the Shropshire Star newspaper, which reported that “savings being made from the unitary move now stood at £14 million, and £7 million would be invested in services” along with “zero council tax rises”.

But here in Worcestershire, Mr Foster’s comments have been rejected by Conservative councillors at both city and county level, who say it is too early to judge whether Shropshire’s move has truly been a success.

Worcestershire County Council's cabinet member for finance, Adrian Hardman, said: “This doesn’t tell you the whole picture. I haven’t been through the whole of Shropshire’s budget. Their council tax is higher than ours and they’re funded by the Government to the tune of about £50 per person better than we are. I don’t see this coming back as an issue in Worcestershire.”

Worcester City Council leader Simon Geraghty said: “The devil’s often in the detail with these things and I don’t know exactly what the situation in that county is – we’re focused on what’s going on here in Worcestershire.”