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CLARKE CALLS FOR UNITARIES

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Miliband loss has hampered restructure hopes...
Miliband loss has hampered restructure hopes

By Nick Golding

Former home secretary Charles Clarke has made his contribution to the local government white paper debate by calling for two-tier council structures to be abolished.

But Mr Clarke has diminished expectations that next month's document will fundamentally revive councils' status, by warning that David Miliband lost responsibility for local government before he could put his modernising ideas into practice.

In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Clarke said: 'My own view is that the creation of unitary local authorities, with the same boundaries as health and police organisations, needs to be completed across the country.'

And, writing in the New Statesman, he criticised the government for failing to win the confidence of local government in its reform drive and not striking the right balance between local and central responsibilities.

'Phrases such as 'the new localism' have offered just about nothing to this discussion, as the age-old unproductive wrangling between central government departments and local authorities about money, targets and responsibilities has not been resolved,' he said.

He continued that the government had failed to settle the need to give local government a role in joining-up education health and policing, resulting in a 'distance' between the government and councillors.

'It is sad that in May, Mr Miliband [then minister for communities and local government] was moved from this responsibility, where during his year in office he had been making major efforts to solve precisely these issues,' he said.

Whereas Mr Miliband enthusiastically backed the creation of more unitary councils, his successor Ruth Kelly has offered only lukewarm support, insisting she 'won't stand in the way' of a small number of councils seeking change.

Mr Clarke's call for police and councils to use the same boundaries has surprised many who were angered by his plans for police force merger. These would have led to forces operating over far wider areas than local government.

Chris Leslie, director of the New Local Government Network and a former Labour minister, said: 'In some ways I'm glad that he's now making noises that indicate perhaps he himself didn't go far enough in empowering local government when he was home secretary.'

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