Headlines: June 8th, 2007



The Government has made it clear it will prioritise councils’ applications for unitary authority status, which are currently under review, on the basis of which are most cost effective and likely to lead to cuts in council tax. Local Government Minister Phil Woolas has begun consultations on measures designed to ensure any restructuring schemes deliver the maximum improvements in services under sound fiscal rules.

Consulations are underway on sixteen proposals from thirteen areas of England, which were selected for further investigation after an initial assessment against strict criteria. These required the plans to be affordable and to provide stronger leadership as well as improving public services and empowering local communities. They also had to show they had a broad cross section of support.

Consultation on the schemes continues until June 22nd so decisions have yet to be made on which will win final approval. Now Mr. Woolas has made it clear how the Government will prioritise the proposals if more of them meet the criteria than are affordable under rules governing the use of reserves to finance transitional costs.

Launching the consultation on prioritisation, which will run until July 18th, he said, “Re-structuring has the potential to make a real difference to local communities and cut council tax. But if there are more proposals that meet the criteria following consultation than can be afforded under sound fiscal rules, then we must ensure that the proposals that go forward are the most cost-effective and deliver the greatest improvement in services.”

Under the plans that stakeholders are being asked to comment on, if there are more proposals that meet the criteria than can be afforded, the first step will be to categorise the proposals into broad groups reflecting the Government’s judgment about their potential to deliver long term outcomes. The highest priority will be given to those judged to be most capable of delivering the outcomes. After that proposals would be ranked within each group to favour those that would yield the greatest efficiency gains for the lowest use of reserves.