The exercise, which began on 17 June and will take nearly a year to complete, involves the committee reviewing those areas in the selected regions where there are two tiers of local government, both district and county councils. The six counties in the north of England which are being reviewed are: Cheshire, Cumbria, Co. Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, and North Yorkshire. Directed by the government, the committee must provide at least two options in each county for a single tier of local government, known as unitary authorities.
Since the first public consultation period, which ended on 8 September, the committee has received over a thousand submissions from local authorities, stakeholders and individuals. They have been carefully considering all the evidence and argumentation and ensuring that it meets the criteria provided by government for successful unitary authorities.
As well as looking at the submissions provided by local authorities, there are a number of other sources of information they have been considering, to provide a sound context on which to base their recommendations. The ability for a new unitary authority to serve the needs of their local communities is essential and evidence of existing local authorities working together has been useful. A key objective in the committee's proposals is to lay the foundations for authorities with strong capacity at b oth strategic and local level and the potential to deliver high performance across all local government services.
Recently commissioned public opinion research conducted by MORI supports the view that residents primary concern is the quality of local government services. The research has proved valuable as one of a number of factors taken into consideration when the committee were developing workable draft options for consultation. Nearly 14,000 people were asked their views about how they identify with their community and local government, and the provision of good quality services came top in their list of priorities.
MORI will shortly be conducting follow-up public opinion research. This time, people will be asked questions specifically relating to the draft options. The findings of this second stage of research are due to be published in April 2004.
Comprehensive Performance Assessments* are another external source of information that the committee have been considering. However, not all local authorities' reports will be published by the time the review is completed so other performance data has been assessed. It should be noted that the reports assess how a council is currently performing and are therefore not necessarily indicative of how a new unitary authority might operate.
As well as meeting with all local authorities in the two-tier areas during the first consultation period, the committee recently conducted a tour of the northern regions. Although the tour was brief, due to the tight timetable of the review, the committee found it valuable and it enabled them able to gain a good geographical and topographical overview of how communities and areas fit with each other.
The committee will consult on the draft options for a period of 12 weeks from today. All views received by 23 February will be taken into account when the committee reach conclusions on their final recommendations to the government.
The Boundary Committee chair, Pamela Gordon said: 'The draf t recommendations that we are putting forward today are there for consultation; we have highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of different options and we are looking for more evidence to enable us to develop our final recommendations.
'We can be sure that the local authorities will give us their views but we will particularly welcome responses from other interests and local residents in the areas concerned.'
1.The Boundary Committee is a statutory committee of The Electoral Commission.
2.The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003, paving the way for referendums on elected regional assemblies, was introduced to Parliament in November 2002 and received Royal Assent in May 2003.
3.The Boundary Committee's local government reviews are expected to take up to a year to be completed. In the event of a 'no' vote in a referendum on an elected regional assembly, the Government has said there will be no local government restructuring.
4.A summary of the submissions received from local authorities during Stage One of the review can be viewed on The Boundary Committee website www.boundary committee.org.uk, as can all the MORI public opinion research and the committee's draft recommendations for all three regions.
5.The draft recommendations for unitary structures in the north-east, north-west and Yorkshire and the Humber regions are available here. This will commence the second period of public consultation, which will last 12 weeks, ending on 23 February 2004. The following draft recommendations reports can also be downloaded: