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Creating a successful unitary authority is not easy

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A county unitary potentially creates an organisation more remote from communities than those it replaces.

However, the challenges in implementing all unitaries have common lessons. A clear scheme of delegated decision-making to create pace during transition is vital, as is retaining key individuals and skills. Identification, realisation and tracking of benefits is crucial.

Do not aim for perfection during transition.

This can cause delays and increase costs. Pragmatism is more important.

The financial crisis and the need to disaggregate county services will mean that achieving savings and improving outcomes will be harder.

Councils will have to learn new tricks quickly, needing to diversify service delivery and lower costs.

Management effectiveness is vital. The competency required for leadership needs to be reviewed.

The single biggest risk is a lack of consensus. Recent changes have allowed decisions to be pushed through. This time legal challenges will again be raised, and a general election may create new obstacles.

Unitary councils are proving a testing ground for all the major changes we are seeking in the sector. Irrespective of arguments for or against, success will be a result of the right leadership, collaboration, practical thinking and the ‘noise’ created by denial or conflict fading away - and fast.

Neil Sartorio, manager of local and regional government practice, Deloitte

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