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BROWN RESHUFFLE MAY HIT UNITARY DECISION

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July statement could be put back...
July statement could be put back

By Nick Golding, political editor

The forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle could delay a decision on local government restructuring, plunging councils into yet more uncertainty.

An announcement on which of the 16 applicants would be permitted to become unitary councils had been expected by late July - but, with any new ministers needing to master their brief before making a decision, it is widely believed the timetable could slip.

A delay until the start of the autumn parliamentary session in October would leave many councils uncertain whether they will either survive or lose districts, hampering their ability to plan for the future.

Brian Greenslade (Lib Dem), leader of Devon CC which faces the loss of Exeter City Council to unitary status, said: 'We'd find further delay really unacceptable. Not knowing whether we'd know to talk to Exeter about certain issues would affect our investment decisions.'

David Clark, director general of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said: 'If they have a new minister, there's no knowing whether a new Cabinet might have a different view about which bids, if any, go forwards.

'Anything that puts people's future in jeopardy inevitably means they concentrate on that rather than on other things.'

It is widely expected incoming prime minister Gordon Brown will overhaul the Cabinet when he takes office on 27 June.

Although communities and local government secretary Ruth Kelly has been in the job for only a year, she could be transferred as Mr Brown seeks to put his stamp on the ministerial team. But her Treasury background could make her well suited to driving through his goal of making councils local agents of economic growth.

Last year the local government white paper was delayed after a reshuffle in which Ms Kelly replaced David Miliband who, many commentators believe, would have released a more radical document.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities & Local Government said the consultation on restructuring proposals was 'continuing as planned'.

Meanwhile, Mr Justice Gibbs has decided a High Court hearing will be held shortly to determine Shrewsbury & Atcham BC's submission for a judicial review into ministers' handling of restructuring.

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