The Local Government Commission plans further defiance of the government's policy to introduce unitary councils int...
The Local Government Commission plans further defiance of the government's policy to introduce unitary councils into shire England, in a leaked draft of the long awaited report on the review. Despite the government's growing determination to replace the existing two tiers, the report holds out hope for the status quo. 'The terms of reference and the procedure prescribed for this commission have made it clear that its function is not simply that of dividing England into areas of unitary local government, but of recommending whether any such change should actually be made'. The report, due to be published next week, says: 'Unfortunately, in many of the review areas there is not support on a broad scale for particular unitary solutions'. It also hints at support for the gradual implementation of unitary councils and the need for the management, as well as the borders of councils, to be 're-engineered' which its chairman Sir John Banham advocated in an October interview (LGC, 22 October).
The commission this week said it would respond later in the month to Environment Secretary John Gummer's order to review Derbyshire and Durham again under revised guidance, which gives a stronger steer in favour of unitary councils.
The final recommendations for these two counties included the retention of two tiers but some district observers say the commission's support for two tiers is crumbling. They point out that once the commission accepted the revised guidance it would only appear obstructive if it continued to recommend two tiers. If the commission accepts its instruction to look again at Derbyshire and Durham the next test of its defiance will be final reports due next month for Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire, where there appears to be most support for two tiers.
In possible recognition of the fruitlessness of advocating status quo, Association of County Councils Secretary Robin Wendt told county members and officers last week they should work to ensure any unitary councils were based on counties. However, the report insists: 'The commission does not see its function as being to impose change on unwilling local communities and local authorities'.
And research by opinion pollster MORI shows status quo to be by far the most popular option when people are asked to choose between larger unitary councils, merged districts and unitary districts. But more worrying for districts, the research as presented by the commission, shows a preference for larger unitaries over merged district.