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Majority back government intervention as support for reorganisation rises

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Support for local government reorganisation among senior officers is growing, LGC’s Confidence Survey has found.

Graphic: big number

Support for government intervention on reorganisation

Of the 206 chief executives, service directors and senior managers to take part, 85% were in favour of restructuring local government, compared to 75% at the time of the last survey in January.

Senior officers at counties continued to back reorganisation, with a 90% support rate reflecting the findings of the previous survey.

Support among districts had risen from 72% in January to 88% when surveyed in early September. Backing from unitary councils has increased from 75% to 85%.

The percentage of senior officers at London boroughs in favour of reorganisation has grown from 75% to 85%, while backing from metropolitan councils has remained consistent at 58%.

Meanwhile, there was variation in confidence among senior officers that their councils would continue to exist across different types of local authority.

Overall 70% of senior officers believed their organisation would exist in four years, compared to 58% at the start of the year.

Counties and districts were less confident than the average at 61% and 68% respectively.

Councils in two-tier areas such as  Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Hampshire have been locked in disputes over the future structure of local government in their areas.

This has prompted calls for central government to intervene in order to smooth the process of reorganisation.

Asked whether they would like to see central government intervene in two-tier areas which are embroiled in disagreements about the future shape of local government in an area, just over two thirds (62%) said it should.

Around two thirds of districts backed government intervention, but the proportion fell to 58% for counties.

Under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 the government has imposed a deadline of 31 March 2019 for councils to bring forward reorganisation plans.

While 44% of councils said they expected plans to emerge in their area by the deadline, 32% said plans would not be forthcoming, with 24% unsure.

However 70% of counties said they expected plans compared to only 40% of districts.

The survey also found 42% of senior officers at metropolitan councils believed plans would emerge in their area by the 2019 deadline.

A wide range of opinions on reorganisation were offered by respondents.

On structure, one said: “District councils should be abolished and London boroughs and other small unitaries should be merged.”

While another added: “County unitaries, supported by strong community mechanisms, make the most sense as this avoids the disaggregation and disruption to county services, allows efficiencies and synergies with district based services, does the boring stuff once and keeps frontline services open to local influence. Everything else will be a big waste of everyone’s time.”

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