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Counties and districts expect Environment Secretary John Gummer to direct the Local Government Commission to abolis...
Counties and districts expect Environment Secretary John Gummer to direct the Local Government Commission to abolish a tier of local government in an accelerated review of English shire councils.

The Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils expected Mr Gummer to propose yesterday revised guidance to the commission directing it to recommend unitary councils in line with parallel reviews of Scottish and Welsh local government.

A move towards unitary local government would force the government to reconsider the commission's initial recommendations. Unless councils were able to resubmit evidence according to the new rules - thereby delaying the process - the government would risk judicial review. Mr Gummer is also expected to direct the commission to review existing metropolitan authority boundaries - but not their functions - from 1 January 1995.

ADC Secretary Geoffrey Filkin said on Wednesday that Mr Gummer would announce 'good news'. 'If the process is simplified and a clear commitment to establishing single tier unitary councils given, then acceleration can be achieved', he said. The ADC said it would welcome 'more emphasis' on districts and counties producing joint submissions to the commission.

However, it is far from clear how the government will be able to force the commission to propose smaller unitary authorities than those already recommended for Derbyshire, Durham, Somerset and much of North Yorkshire.

Without that guarantee some districts have already shown themselves more willing to back the status quo than risk the outcome of county wide unitary councils.

ACC Secretary Robin Wendt said the association would support speeding up the review as long it did not undermine the integrity of the commission.

He expected 'a greater impetus towards unitary authorities with less emphasis on the status quo' even though this would contradict unpublished evidence from commission pollsters MORI.

The commission said it hoped to publish all the MORI results early next month. It said surveys for Derbyshire, Durham, Cleveland and the Isle of Wight had not been published in case they influenced opinion in areas which are still being polled.

Any change to the rules of a constitutional review half way through the process would be 'a pretty extraordinary thing to do', said Mr Wendt.

l Bedfordshire CC policy committee will next week be asked to back a single unitary council based on the existing county boundaries.

A cross party panel of members which has investigated various options said one council serving 530,000 people to replace the county and four districts would save £5.8 million a year.

The only other tenable option would be two unitary councils based on Luton and a combination of the three remaining districts.

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