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O'Brien offers alternative to restructuring...
O'Brien offers alternative to restructuring

An LGC exclusive by Nick Golding, political editor

London Councils' new chief executive has pledged it will ward off demands for restructuring by becoming a 'catalyst for co-operation'.

John O'Brien has promised the body representing the 32 London boroughs will help them devise new structures to provide shared services, to ensure they improve despite the tough settlement expected from the comprehensive spending review.

In an exclusive interview with LGC to mark his first week in the job, the former Department for Communities & Local Government director of local government performance said boroughs were 'alive to' the danger of growing demands for restructuring if they failed to improve joint working.

'I'm not being complacent here - work on this always needs to go further and faster,' he said. 'We must ensure that the boroughs deliver.'

But Mr O'Brien insisted he was confident the capital's councils could prove the value of the existing structure, which he said it would be 'foolish to throw away'.

'The fact that we have in London a broad degree of consensus with a broad, elected regional tier of governance, plus a whole series of unitary London boroughs, seems to me to give us a platform that probably many other people in the country would envy in terms of clarity,' he added.

Shared services have been held up as an alternative to unitary authorities in many areas where councils intend to remain two-tier and could similarly boost the case for retaining London's current borough boundaries.

London mayor Ken Livingstone has repeatedly called for boroughs to be merged to make government more efficient, although ministers have ruled out reorganisation for the time being.

Former local government minister Nick Raynsford, himself a London MP, has previously said he believes the current structure is unsustainable in the long run.

In the interview, Mr O'Brien also said concerns about the increasing costs of the 2012 Olympics should not mean projects to spread the benefits of the games across the city are sacrificed.

'With that very big contribution that all the boroughs are making, it does raise legitimate challenges about how the benefits can be spread right across London.'

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell revealed last month a three-fold increase in the projected cost of the games - up to£9.35bn from£3bn in 2005. The London mayor assured tax-payers they would not foot the bill for the increased costs.

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