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Sir John Banham has denied he offered to abandon the Local Government Commission's latest report on Derbyshire in r...
Sir John Banham has denied he offered to abandon the Local Government Commission's latest report on Derbyshire in return for greater freedom with the review. Speaking to LGC last Friday Sir John, who chairs the commission, said he had made 'an excellent deal' with ministers but stressed this did not undermine his independence.

'No-one has yet accused me of being a toady of the government. I am not suddenly turning into a poodle of the government'. In a letter to the government Sir John offered to re-examine final recommendations to retain two council tiers in parts of the county.

Sir John said the letter simply restated the law and ruled out reassessing existing unitary proposals presented by Derbyshire districts. But the offer to consider new proposals, which was published on the same day as the commission's final report on Derbyshire (8 November), infuriated the county council. County leader Martin Doughty last week accused Sir John of having a 'cosy relationship' with the government and said only one other commission member wanted Sir John to send the letter. Another letter, from commission chief executive Martin Easteal sent to commissioners, said Sir John's letter was 'an acceptable price to pay' for flexibility and better relations with the government.

'The commission members had every right to believe that a letter which restated the law of the land may risk being misinterpreted', Sir John said. 'But knowing all the things I did, it was the right thing to do. There is no price to pay - it was an excellent deal'. Sir John suggested in November that a government minister had asked him to write the letter. But he refused to comment further on who or what prompted it.

The DoE said both the commission and the government agreed it would be useful to re-examine Derbyshire under new guidance which favours unitary councils.

Sir John said Audit Commission disagreements with the commission's own assessments of the costs of new councils only revealed different government briefs. 'The Audit Commission has never looked at the overheads of existing local authorities'. But he said the fewer authorities there are, the lower the overhead costs.

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