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Council members should be wary of allowing senior officers to hijack the process of setting up new unitary authorit...
Council members should be wary of allowing senior officers to hijack the process of setting up new unitary authorities, said Josie Farrington, leader of the Association of County Councils, last week.

She was addressing delegates at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities annual conference in Dunblane.

Emphasising that she was speaking in a purely personal capacity, Baroness Farrington advised members against becoming absorbed in issues such as the identity of the new council leader. Instead they should ensure officers presented them with impartial advice about service delivery and structure, not just their own preferred solutions.

'There is a responsibility in my view for that professional advice to be given openly and publicly if we want to gain respect,' she said.

Baroness Farrington attacked the erosion of local democracy under the Conservative government, the centralisation of power in the hands of ministers and an emasculated civil service.

She argued in favour of regional assemblies throughout Britain with their own revenue-raising powers.

We already have a situation of 'regional government by civil servants', she said. They 'throw major decisions back to the people in government but don't come before Parliament'.

She called on Scottish members to help widen the debate for democratic accountability into English regions.

She referred to the government's decision to reopen the review in some English shire counties. 'Don't believe an independent review would have given you protection from gerrymandering of boundaries for political ends.'

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