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CCT: PUBLIC OUTCRY, PRIVATE RELIEF IN THE ASSOCIATION

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CAMP ...
CAMP

Local authorities immediately attacked environment minister Sir Paul Beresford's white-collar CCT regulations as unworkable and complicated.

But in senior local government circles there is the private recognition that Tuesday's announcement was not as catastrophic as it might have been. Some sources even suggest it was a case of mission accomplished.

Local government did manage to win some concessions. Counties have been set a lower competition target for finance because they do not perform benefits work. Proposals to effectively abolish housing management de minimis by aiming for a level of 500 properties before the end of the century were thrown out. The timetables for finance and housing management were eased in response to council concerns.

But simply by dragging out the process for so long - chiefly by threatening to go to the courts - is the major victory for the associations. Waving the judicial review flag not only forced the government to think again about the reasonableness of the original proposals, it also served to add precious months and so bring the prospect of Labour winning the general election into play. Even this weekend, 19 weeks after the end of the consultation process, civil servants were trawling through the proposals trying to find any weaknesses which the associations could take to the High Court.

The associations will examine Tuesday's announcement closely for anything which could hint at a trip to the High Court. But to a large extent they have accomplished their limited objectives, given that Sir Paul was never going to tear up his proposals entirely.

The delaying tactics will have been in vain, however, unless Labour delivers - first by winning the next election and then by quickly honouring its pledge to scrap CCT.

Shadow local government minister Hilary Armstrong this week made clear that Labour is determined to consign compulsion to the dustbin. She told LGC: 'It is certainly not our intention to follow the route mapped out by Sir Paul Beresford.'

But exactly when a Blair administration will be in a position to mount an assault on the regime remains open to question. Ms Armstrong said: 'I can't give local government any message now that they don't have to comply with the government's timetable. If we win [the election], we will have to consult on changes.'

The next war over CCT is set to be one of nerves.

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