Headlines: January 29th, 2007



More than two dozen proposals have been put forward by local councils in England that wish to become unitary authorities. The applications have been welcomed by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Ruth Kelly, although the Government has already warned that it is unlikely to implement more than 8 proposals.

The 26 proposals have been submitted in response to an invitation in October to councils in two-tier areas. The Government said the invitation was a recognition of the need to remove obstacles to strong local leadership, which was necessary for shaping places and to provide effective and responsive services. Perceived obstacles included confusion among local people about the responsibilities of the different tiers of local government, duplication of services and inefficiencies between tiers.

The Government says that in the remaining two-tier areas it will expect councils to pursue new working arrangements to bring about the same improvements and efficiency gains it hopes to see achieved by the new unitary authorities. As part of this, five proposals have been submitted by councils that want to be considered as pathfinders for new models of two-tier working.

Ruth Kelly said the proposals that had been submitted would be assessed against strict criteria including the expectation of a broad cross section of local support, increased efficiency gains and the need for all the costs of reorganisation to be met locally without an increase in council tax. There will an announcement in March about which of the bids will go forward for consideration by stakeholders.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is now setting up a working group with representatives of the Local Government Association and the public service unions to look at the implications of the reorganisations.