Headlines: July 26th, 2007

Nine schemes to create single tier unitary authorities are to proceed towards implementation with the intention that the new authorities would be in full operation by 2009. It is expected that the new authorities could save more than 150 million pounds a year.

The announcement by Local Government Minister John Healey, comes after a 12-week consultation period in which stakeholders gave their views, followed by a rigorous assessment of the proposals against criteria for affordability, stronger leadership, improved local services, empowered communities and a broad cross section of support.

The successful single status bids include a planned unitary authority for Shropshire, where district councils opposed to the idea, have won the right to a judicial review appeal which is due to be heard in September. North Yorkshire and Cheshire councils are also involved in the action but plans for s single councils for those areas have not been successful, though the other plans approved include a two unitary Cheshire. Unitary authorities will also be created for Bedford, Cornwall, Durham, Exeter, Ipswich, Northumberland and Wiltshire.

Mr. Healey said all the proposals had been assessed and all nine of the successful schemes had shown they wanted to build on improvements in local government made in the last ten years. “I have been impressed with the plans laid out in their proposals, which show potential for better value for money and improved services,” he said.

In four of the nine cases – Bedford Borough, Chester City, Exeter City and Ipswich Borough – the authorities have been asked to submit additional information to demonstrate conclusively the financial viability of their proposals. Although Norwich City Council’s bid for unitary status based on the city’s current boundaries failed to meet the strict criteria it has been accepted that there is a strong case for a single tier authority and the Boundary Commission is being asked to examine whether an alternative proposal based on revised council boundaries could deliver the required improvements.