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By political correspondent Varya Shaw ...
By political correspondent Varya Shaw

The difficulties faced by local government secretary Stephen Byers this week have prompted calls for the DTLR to be split into its component parts.

Senior figures in local government breathed a sigh of relief as he clung on to his job, but many said it was clear the department was too big and unwieldy.

Local Government Association Liberal Democrat group leader Chris Clarke said the department was 'too big for one pair of hands' and local government merited its own department.

Association chair Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) asked whether transport should be made a separate department. 'The marriage [between local government and transport] which was a good idea never quite came off from very early days,' he said.

New Local Government Network chair Professor Gerry Stoker, who last week called for a separate department for devolution (LGC, 22 February), said: 'It is evident that deeper issues underlie the DTLR's recent, short-term problems, and these can only truly be addressed by dividing the brief.'

There were plaudits for the work done so far by Mr Byers. Mr Clarke said: 'Some insiders are saying he didn't want [the white paper's comprehensive performance assessment] measures, these came directly from the prime minister.

'The vision he's expressed is about letting people get on with the job. It would be tragic if anyone was diverted from that.'

Institute of Local Government Studies director Sir Michael Lyons said: 'It was his commitment to more devolved and stronger local government that you see in the white paper and that counteracts the few people who would still like a centralised model.

'It would be a disappointment if he didn't have the opportunity to show us what he could be - a really good secretary for state for local government. It's been a long time since we have had one.'

The Recent Crisis

Stephen Byers has secured his short-term political career after seeing off Opposition attempts to bring him down over the Moore/Sixsmith affair.

But he and DTLR senior civil servant Sir Richard Mottram have been read the Riot Act by the prime minister and told to focus on their jobs.

The controversy over the warring spin doctors finally had an airing in the House

of Commons when Mr Byers made a statement to MPs.

In what was the nearest thing to an apology, Mr Byers told the Commons though

he thought Mr Sixsmith should not be given a job elsewhere in government he had not tried to influence the decision.

After making the statement Mr Byers and Sir Richard were summoned to Downing Street.

After the meeting, the prime minister's official spokesman said: 'There can be no stronger signal of the prime minister's commitment to refocus this department on its proper priorities and of giving his full support to those engaged in that exercise than this meeting.'

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