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Councils and their associations have failed to grasp the opportunities offered by the Local Government Commission r...
Councils and their associations have failed to grasp the opportunities offered by the Local Government Commission review of structure and cannot agree on costs or where local government is going, Sir John Banham told the Association of county councils annual conference in Cumbria this morning.

Sir John went on to speak of the recent changed guidance and later listed the various stages involved in the future review process.

'Ministers have made it plain that in rural areas they do not expect to see existing shire districts become unitary authorities on their existing boundaries save in very exceptional circumstances - like Rutland perhaps.' The balkanisation of English local government, is not longer on the agenda, he added.

Sir John looked back at the Redcliffe-Maude Commission report on local government 25 years ago which saw expansion for councils in many areas. He said that Redcliffe-Maude made some very basic mistakes, assuming among other things that the 'Nanny State' was a permanent feature of the British political landscape.

Now there are some particularly difficult questions to be answered , said Sir John. These include: is the current balance of power between central and local government stable? Is the role of local government in our society likely to change in any significant way? Is local government ready for the shift from being a provider to an enabler?

Sir John also asked whether it made sense to seek to strengthen local government when less than 20% of revenue expenditure is raised locally.

Turning to the way the revised review will operate, Sir John highlighted four stages having said that the Commission welcomed the fact that all the areas still to be reviewed should be covered together in a single programme to be completed by the end of 1994 because of the debilitating nature of the long review process so far on councils..

STAGE ONE: Commission hopes to see local authorities put forward agreed proposals for unitary structures that reflect ministers' expressed views. It is unrealistic to expect a single proposal to receive universal endorsement. Councils have had to spend too much time on cost implications so the commission will make the following assumptions. That indirect costs in any county area will equally 10% of net total costs for all local authorities in that area; that the distribution of these costs between the various unitary structural options will follow the pattern established in first tranche authorities; and that the one off transitional cots for each unitary structural option will be in the range £45-60 a household. The Commission will also do the research to determine local community identity.

STAGE TWO: Commission to evaluate main options and report draft recommendations to local people and interest. This report would set out the promise that a unitary structure holds for tackling problems of concern to local people.

STAGE THREE: Commission would seek wide publicity for its recommendations. Every household would receive a questionnaire.

STAGE FOUR: Commission to evaluate likely local support for changes and make recommendations to Secretary of State.

Near the end of his speech Sir John said it would be unwise to force change on an unwilling community, there may be places where local people remain unconvinced of the need for a unitary structure.

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