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BANHAM IN DERBYSHIRE DEAL WITH GOVERNMENT

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Sir John Banham was prepared to abandon his commission's final proposals for new councils in Derbyshire in return f...
Sir John Banham was prepared to abandon his commission's final proposals for new councils in Derbyshire in return for a government promise of greater freedom and money to manage the rest of the local government review, it emerged this week. Letters lodged as evidence in a court case brought by Derbyshire CC against Environment Secretary John Gummer show that Sir John was prepared to fix a deal with the government.

In a letter sent on 8 November, Sir John offered to re- examine final proposals from Clive Wilkinson and Michael Chisholm - which included the retention of parts of Derbyshire CC - on the same day that they were commending them to council leaders in the county. Sir John consulted commission members about whether to send the letter in the week before but it is clear that some opposed the plan.

In a letter to commissioners also sent on 8 November, commission chief executive Martin Easteal thanked them on behalf of Sir John for 'the detailed points made'. The chairman considered that on balance this letter was an acceptable price to pay for the increased flexibility and resources that the commission will need next year, and to minimise any appearance of unnecessary friction between the government and the commission', Mr Easteal says.

In a letter to Mr Doughty, Mr Wilkinson distances himself from Sir John's decision to send the letter and stresses the independence of the commission. 'Members of the commission were asked their views on the draft of the letter but the responsibility for sending the letter and its contents are Sir John's alone'.

Professor Chisholm wrote in support of Mr Wilkinson in a separate letter. Derbyshire Leader Martin Doughty said only one commission member approved of sending a letter to the government offering to look again at recommendations for the county.

He accused Sir John and senior staff at the commission of having 'a cosy relationship' with the government which cast doubt on the commission's independence. 'The government won't stop until the commission has delivered Derbyshire on a plate', he said. The county has launched a high court challenge to Mr Gummer's decision to change guidance to the commission which makes it harder to recommend two local government tiers.

Mr Doughty told LGC Sir John 'needs to consider his position carefully in an organisation that so obviously needs to demonstrate its independence'. Mr Doughty also complained that Sir John had claimed many districts in Derbyshire, Cleveland and Durham had asked it to reassess its recommendations in the light of new government guidance which favours unitary councils.

However, the county said only four out of nine districts - Bolsover and High Peak BCs, Derbyshire Dales DC and Derby City Council - had in fact written to Sir John. Mr Doughty said the letters had not been approved by council committees and Amber Valley and Erewash BCs and Bolsover had now signed up to fight for an improved two tier system for the county.

He said the review had already cost £2.5 million in Derbyshire and further delay made it even more debilitating to around 40,000 staff employed by the council. Mr Wilkinson and Professor Chisholm are due to restart the review in April but Mr Doughty predicted the entire review would collapse before any new Derbyshire councils come into operation in 1997.

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