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TWO-MONTH WINDOW FOR UNITARY BIDDERS

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Kelly lukewarm on reorganisation...
Kelly lukewarm on reorganisation

By Nick Golding

Prospective unitaries are set to gain a two-month window of opportunity to convince ministers they deserve freedom.

But Ruth Kelly gave only lukewarm support to restructuring in her Local Government Association conference speech and strict conditions will be imposed on councils seeking an end to the two-tier system.

The communities and local government secretary said: 'Where there is a broad cross-section of support for change and where our criteria are met, I won't stand in their way.

'But let me also assure you that I am far more interested in outcomes for citizens than lines on maps.'

All prospective unitaries will be expected to make their case between October and December and will be assessed on the depth of local support, the cost of reorganisation, the scope for efficiencies and the ease of transition.

LGC also understands that districts or existing unitaries that want to expand are unlikely to be permitted to grab land from their neighbours.

And individual councils will not be allowed to veto restructuring if the majority of councils in an area are supportive.

Ms Kelly's comments give an indication of the likely scope of restructuring with most people believing only a minority of two-tier areas are likely to take the plunge - far fewer than her predecessor David Miliband is believed to have envisaged.

Only a scattering of towns and cities which missed out on unitary status in the 1990s review are keen to break free from their counties, including Ipswich BC, Lancaster Council and, possibly, Chester City Council.

Durham and Shropshire CCs have been considering bids to rid themselves of districts but Gloucestershire CC has dropped its enthusiasm for unitary status.

Questions remain over the permissible size of new unitaries with one proposal to set a minimum population size of 250,000, ruling out most towns making the plunge.

Government unitary criteria

>> Affordability

>> Support of stakeholders

>> Value for money

>> Deliverability

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