Headlines: March 11th, 2004

A new working group has begun looking at the best ways to implement local government reorganisation if regional assemblies are set up in the North West of England, the North East or Yorkshire and the Humber. The reorganisation will happen only if there is a ‘yes’ vote in referendums on regional government to be held later this year.The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which chairs the new group, is stressing that its establishment in no way pre-empts any referendum result but that it is a forward planning measure to ensure that if people in any of the regions back regional assemblies the necessary reorganisation of local government can take place with the fewest possible problems.

The group will look at the practical issues of reorganisation such as implications for staff, the need to minimise the disruption of local authority’s functions and to ensure value for money.

Public sector unions, the Local Government Association, SOLACE – the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives – the Local Government Employers Organisation and the Audit Commission have all been invited to participate in the working group.

If any region votes for regional government there is a requirement for there to be unitary local government structures. That would mean the need for reorganisation in those areas that currently have county and district councils. No change to the structure would see elected assemblies adding a third tier of elected government, below the national level, which is seen as being one too many. It is believed that streamlining local government structures will help provide for more efficient working between the tiers.

Nick Raynsford, the Minister for Local and Regional Government welcomed the working party which he believed would enable the Government to decide well in advance of any referendums, the broad approach that it intended to adopt on implementation issues as a result of any local government reorganisation.