Headlines: March 28th, 2007



Ten more English counties could come under the control of a single unitary local authority if proposals which have been shortlisted for consultation become a reality. In three of the areas – Bedfordshire, Cheshire and Northumberland, – counter proposals have also been accepted for further examination. In all sixteen councils bidding for unitary status have been short listed.

The Department for Communities and Local Government says the successful proposals could bring about savings of up to 200 million pounds a year, which could be used to improve services or to cut council tax bills. It believes, too, that restructuring will prevent unnecessary inefficiency, confusion and duplication of services. The sixteen schemes were shortlisted from 26 original submissions made in January.

The criteria for restructuring mean proposals must be affordable, provide stronger leadership, improve public services, empower local communities and have a broad cross section of support. The 16 schemes that have been selected will now be subject to a 12 week consultation, with stakeholders having until 22nd June to submit responses. Proposed changes that succeed at that stage would be subject to the Parliamentary process but it is anticipated they would be fully operational by April 2009.

In remaining areas with two-tier local authorities the Government expects councils to pursue new working arrangements to achieve improvement and efficiency gains but the Local Government Association has said there is no single right way to organise local government and that what matters is that local people in every area get a system that meets their needs.

Proposals for single unitary authorities for whole counties will be examined in Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Cheshire, Cumbria, Durham, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, Shropshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Bedford Borough Council is also proposing a unitary authority for Bedford, Chester City Council wants two authorities for Cheshire and district councils in Northumberland also want two authorities. The cities of Exeter and Norwich want to be run as single unitary authorities as does the Borough of Ipswich.