Torbay's appeal to county council: 'Please take us over'
Cash-strapped Torbay council has pleaded with sister authority Devon to "take them over", it has been revealed.
The unitary council is struggling to implement massive cuts in its annual budget, with a reduction of £10 million agreed for 2013/14.
Conservative mayor of Torbay Gordon Oliver is thought to have asked county council leader John Hart to bail them out of trouble.
Mr Oliver, also a Tory, was criticised last year for pushing his idea for a single Devon "super council", uniting all the districts, boroughs and city councils into one giant body. He insists change is necessary to respond to increasing budget pressures, and said the county should follow Cornwall's example to increase efficiency and generate savings.
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At a full council meeting at County Hall in Exeter, Mr Hart said: "Torbay has asked us to take them over."
When asked to explain the statement later, he said it "wasn't perhaps the best choice of phrase I could have used".
Mr Hart added: "Since I became leader I have been trying to cut costs for council taxpayers across Devon by sharing services and back-office functions with other councils and public bodies.
"We talked to Torbay last year about how we could work together and what services and functions we could share. But it was an election year in Devon and the time wasn't right.
"I am, however, clear that it is vital that all the public services in Devon work more closely together to save money as we all face making unprecedented reductions in services to balance our budgets.
"We are currently talking to Plymouth, Torbay, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall Police and Devon and Somerset Fire Service about how we can work more closely together."
Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay, said he hadn't heard if Mr Oliver had pleaded to Devon County Council but said sharing services would work in the authority's favour. He said: "When Torbay wanted to become a unitary authority ... there was a feeling that taking over every single service could lead to difficulties further down the track.
"With the incompetent decisions that have been taken under the mayoral system by both the previous and current mayors, it's now leading the current mayor to seek ways of outsourcing the problem.
"This is a desperate man, who is losing confidence right across the council and residential communities of the bay and is now, like a drowning man, grappling for a lifeline."
Mr Oliver was unavailable for comment before the Western Morning News went to press.