Headlines: December 6th, 2007

Five new unitary authorities have been given approval by the Local Government Minister John Healey. He’s also set out dates for the first elections to the new councils and the measures to ensure they are all in operation by the beginning of April 2009. It is expected that the replacement of existing structures in the five areas could save more than 75 million pounds a year which will go towards the improvement of front line services or cutting council tax bills.

The announcement will see new single-tier councils replacing a total of 29 existing district authorities as well as five county councils. The areas which have won approval are Cornwall, Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire. In addition the Government has said it is minded to agree to Bedford Borough Council’s proposals. A final decision will be made once unitary proposals for the rest of Bedfordshire have been received.

Proposals that are not being allowed to proceed at this stage include those from Ipswich and Exeter, which Mr. Healey did not feel had so far demonstrated conclusively that, given current boundaries, they had a sound financial case on their own. Both those proposals are being referred to the Boundary Committee, who will examine them in the context of the options for unitary arrangements in the wider county areas. In the case of Cheshire, where two unitary proposals covering the whole county met all the criteria, so many detailed views have been received since July that the Government is to take more time to consider the best solution.

John Healey said all the successful proposals had proved under rigorous assessment that they could create flagship councils improving services and opportunities for local people. “They must now forge ahead to make that a reality and establish their own democratic legitimacy and accountability,” he added.

Each of the new areas now has to establish an Implementation Executive drawn from all the affected councils. All employees of the existing county and district councils in post immediately before April 2009 will become employees of the new unitary councils, although not all individual posts will continue.