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TONY TRAVERS - NEVER MIND THE WEATHER-THERE'S LOTS TO LOOK FORWARD TO

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January can be a glum month. First, there's the return to work after the festive break. Second comes the need to wr...
January can be a glum month. First, there's the return to work after the festive break. Second comes the need to wrestle with the 'I'll change my life this year'-type resolutions that pop into the mind as the new working year gets under way. Third, there's the weather: it's inevitably bleak and dark. Finally, Easter and the sunlit uplands of spring seem a long way away.

However, 2007 looks set to be an all-action year for both local and central government. In the first eight weeks of the year, Sir Michael Lyons will be hosting meetings to consider the overlaps between his original inquiry and those of Eddington, Barker and Leitch. There is a final short period for councils to put forward a case for change.

Lyons will report at 'around the time of the Budget', which could, presumably mean as late as just after Easter. We will then be at the start of pre-election purdah, as the parties prepare for Scottish Parliamentary, Welsh Assembly, and English and Scottish local polls. The Scottish local government elections will be of particular interest as they will be the first council elections in Britain ever fought on the basis of proportional representation. Smaller parties (which in Scotland includes the Conservatives) can be expected to gain seats as a result of this reform.

By mid-summer the commentariat will be in a frenzy of excitement as the country finally changes its prime minister. There will almost certainly be a Labour leadership contest, which could be bloody, at the end of which Gordon Brown will presumably become prime minister. David Cameron will call for a snap general election, which will be rejected. The media will begin to write wistful articles about the newly retired Tony Blair, setting all their attack dogs on the new occupant of Downing Street.

We will find out during the late summer and early autumn just how radical the new prime minister will be. Whitehall may be reformed, which begs the question of whether the Communities & Local Government department will survive. Quite possibly not. The Home Office may also be subjected to radical surgery. New faces will appear in the Cabinet, others will be sacked.

Local government's relationship with Whitehall will probably alter as a result of both Lyons and the change of national leader. There seems to be much interest within both the Local Government Association and central government in the possibility of a new, independent, intermediary body.

Then, later in the autumn, we will see the publication of the new administration's response to both the 2006 local government white paper and the Lyons report. These responses will provide us with the clearest view of how the new prime minister sees the future of devolved government in England and Britain. So, while January looks a bit miserable, the rest of 2007 will undoubtedly grab our attention.

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