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UNITARY: REACTION TO OPTIONS RANGES FROM 'GOOD NEWS' TO 'SURPRISE' TO 'DISASTER'

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LANCASHIRE 1 of 3 ...
LANCASHIRE 1 of 3

Wigan MBC could be asked to take over even more of West Lancashire than was

originally proposed, under the final recommendations of the government's

boundary experts (see 'http://www.lgcnet.com/pages/news/article.asp?ArticleID=320659'>LGCnet).

A plan to split west Lancashire between Wigan and Sefton was one of the

options put forward by the Boundary Committee for England to create

'unitary' local government in Lancashire if the region as a whole votes for

a regional assembly later this year.

The other option was for one large all-purpose council based largely on the

existing Lancashire boundaries.

The Boundary Committee has been consulting councils and residents in the

affected areas about the options since its draft plans were published

earlier in the year.

Now it has published its 'final recommendations' and as originally planned,

voters in West Lancashire will be asked to choose between a large single

Lancashire council or a merger with Wigan MBC and Sefton MBC.

But the new proposal extends the potential Wigan boundary further west

almost to the edge of Ormskirk. The Boundary Committee says this is because

it doesn't want to split a planned new Lathom South parish between Wigan and

Sefton - which would have happened under its earlier proposal.

It could mean towns and villages in the eastern half of west Lancashire -

such as Skelmersdale, Up Holland, Newburgh, Parbold and Wrightington -

becoming part of Wigan borough. Edge Hill College near Ormskirk could also

be transferred. The borough's population would increase by 58,000 to

359,000.

Wigan MBC made its own views clear when the original plans were

published, and say the new proposals have not changed anything. Council

chiefs are stressing that the merger idea has not come from them, and they

are sensitive to the feelings of West Lancashire residents and council

staff. They say they would need to be certain that enough government money

was forthcoming to make any merger a viable proposition.

The council is also adamant that an enlarged Wigan must remain part of

Greater Manchester, since its existing links with public transport, police

and fire services in the county are strong and work well for local

residents.

Wigan leader Lord Smith said: 'It's fair to say that the original idea came

as a surprise to us, as our own plans merely involved tidying up the

boundaries in Appley Bridge and Tontine.

'The Boundary Committee believe that the existing West Lancashire area is

not big enough to become a unitary authority providing all the local

services, and they see Wigan as an excellent council that could be relied on

to manage the transition effectively.

'However we are certainly aware of concerns being expressed in west

Lancashire and want to assure people there that, while we aren't driving

this agenda, if it happens we will make it work as effectively as possible.

'We have also made it clear that we need to be satisfied that the proper

level of funding would be made available to continue the excellent services

that residents of both areas currently enjoy. It's vital that there's a fair

share of existing budgets to enable us to tackle areas of social

deprivation.'

The Boundary Committee said: 'We feel that residents in West Lancashire

could benefit from the existing experience of Sefton and Wigan in providing

these services (social services and education), and we feel confident that

Sefton and Wigan could expand their existing services to provide for West

Lancashire residents.

'We consider that provision of large-scale services by the larger

authorities that would result from amalgamation with those areas would be a

lower-risk option for the west Lancashire public.'

*It is understood that the government will not announ ce any final

decisions on whether to accept, amend or reject the committee's plans before

6 July at the earliest. The referendum on a regional assembly is likely to

take place in October or November.

LANCASHIRE 2 of 3

The options are subject to approval by the deputy prime minister, notes Burnley BC. If he approves then the public will be asked whether or not they want a north-west regional assembly based on one of the two options in the autumn.

In the event that the result of the referendum is to introduce an elected regional assembly in the north-west the Boundary Committee intends to conduct, as a matter of priority, electoral reviews in all new or continuing authorities, or any others materially affected by the outcome of the review.

Burnley BC has welcomed the fact that one of its preferred options - creating two unitary authorities covering East Lancashire - will go forward to a vote. The council preferred to see an authority covering just Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale but is happy to see the inclusion of the Ribble Valley as well.

Leader Stuart Caddy said: 'The proposal for East Lancashire was not our preferred option, however, we certainly weren't against the idea of Ribble Valley being included. The council's members considered this carefully and two authorities covering East Lancashire, plus others covering other parts of Lancashire, are the best way forward.

'A unitary authority covering the whole of Lancashire would be too large and too remote. The Boundary Commission's recommendation to have all services provided from Preston leaves me speechless. It could not hope to meet local people's needs and our local voice will disappear. It would be a disaster for people in the area.'

Any unitary authority would be responsible for all the services currently carried out by the borough council, togethe r with services such as education, social services and libraries currently run by the county council.

Burnley BC believes that a new unitaryauthority covering Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and parts of the Ribble Valley would be able to set up the most appropriate structures from its outset. It would be large enough to enjoy economies of scale and have 'clout' without losing touch with its communities.

The authority would serve around a quarter of a million people.

LANCASHIRE 3 of 3

In their report to the deputy prime minister the Boundary Committee has set out two options, notes Lancaster City Council. It was required to put forward at least two options.

Option A: A single unitary council based on the majority of the Lancashire county area.

Option B: A Council covering Lancaster District, Barrow-in-Furness and South Lakeland from Cumbria.

Option B reflects Lancaster City Council's proposals for the future organisation of Local government.

Earlier this year The Boundary Committee commissioned MORI Social Research Institute to do research to find out the views of residents' about alternative options for unitary local government.

This was also the preferred option of those local residents who expressed the preference.

Lancaster leader Ian Barker said: 'We are really pleased to see Lancaster City and Barrow Borough Councils' joint proposal being included in the Boundary Committee's final recommendations for Cumbria and Lancashire. Both councils feel this is the best option for efficient single tier local government that remains as close as possible to the people.'

COUNTY DURHAM

Chester-le-Street DC, Derwentside DC, Dictrict of Easington, Teesdale DC, Wear Valley DC and Sedgefield BC issued a joint reaction. Attached is also a simple Q & A that is useful to understand the basic points.

Local Choice-L ocal Voice welcomed the announcement by the Boundary Committee that there is likely to be a clear choice for voters at the upcoming referendum.

The committee announced today that it would be recommending a choice between one or three unitary authorities to represent County Durham to deputy prime minister John Prescott.

Mr Prescott will announce in July his final decision on whether these are the options that will make it onto the referendum ballot paper.

This review of local government will see a layer of local government abolished in County Durham if there is a yes vote for a regional assembly in the referendum this autumn. In the referendum voters will be asked to choose how they would like local government to be run in the area.

Local Choice-Local Voice is a group backing plans for three unitary councils to represent County Durham.

Chair of Local Choice-Local Voice, councillor Robin Todd, said: 'We are delighted the Boundary Committee has come to the conclusion there should be a clear choice for voters between local government through three unitary authorities representing County Durham or sub-regional arrangements through one very large unitary authority.

'We believe such a huge council would be unmanageable and not locally accountable.

'When we became aware of this review we commissioned an independent study by INLOGOV, the expert local government faculty attached to the University of Birmingham which unanimously and clearly stated that the best option for local government in County Durham is to have three unitary authorities offering people local representation.

'We believe it is more democratic, infinitely easier to work and is the best option for the people of the area.

'We have also been encouraged from the MORI poll commissioned by the Boundary Committee which indicated that 45 per cent of people who expressed a preference were opposed to a single unitary authority.

'It is clear to people opposed to the single unitary council that loc al councils set lower taxes. The county council has increased their council tax by 69 per cent more than local councils have done over the last nine years.

'We eagerly await the final decision to be announced by John Prescott later this summer.'

Local Choice-Local Voice is made up of Chester-le-Street DC, Derwentside DC, District of Easington, Sedgefield BC, Teesdale DC and Wear Valley DC.

www.localchoice-localvoice.org.uk

NORTH YORKSHIRE

'Good news for York' is how City of York Council described the recommendation not to change the city's boundary.

The Boundary Committee announced its final recommendations for a potential local government reorganisation in an emotionally charged meeting earlier this morning.

The committee was asked to review the current structure of local government in North Yorkshire ahead of the referendum on regional government in October 2004. If a Yorkshire and Humberside regional parliament is introd uced, the current mix of district and county council authorities will be replaced by unitaries.

In its draft recommendations, announced last December, the committee agreed to explore the idea of a merger between York and Selby, despite extensive opposition. York's response to the original consultation was strongly in favour of maintaining its original boundary - a view that was shared by other authorities in the county and local residents.

York chief executive David Atkinson said: 'We welcome the Boundary Committee's recommendations, which are in line with the view of the council and the wishes of the majority of residents. The two options put forward by the Boundary Committee provide a clear chose for the residents of North Yorkshire.'

In its findings, the Boundary Committee recognised the 'recent and sensitive process of integration that was necessary following the expansion of City of York Council's boundaries after the last structural review [in 1996]' and confirmed that it could not 'be confident that the interests of residents of these areas [Selby and York] would be best served by an amalgamation, without significant commitment and vision from the parties concerned.

Residents in two-tier areas will be able to vote for their preferred option as part of the referendum on regional government.

Notes:

York provided three main reasons why the city's boundary should not be changed in the event of regional government:

- Any boundary change would not necessarily increase York's performance and would detract from its improvement programme. Unlike two tier authorities, structural change for York is not essential; and the council believes that it needs to focus on improvements to existing service delivery, which it is committed to completing

- The council believes that there is not a specific natural commun ity that exists externally to its existing boundary

- Any increase in York's boundary to incorporate the higher cost surrounding areas in North Yorkshire can only add to the council's costs

In a MORI poll in April 2004, 62% of York residents wanted no change to York's boundary - of those 89% felt very or fairly strongly on the matter. In the same poll, less than 10% of York residents wanted a York/Selby merger. Less than 8 per cent of Selby residents want a merger.

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