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UNWANTED STRUCTURES ILLEGAL SAYS BANHAM

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The imposition by the government of an unpopular council structure for Derbyshire would be blocked by the Local Gov...
The imposition by the government of an unpopular council structure for Derbyshire would be blocked by the Local Government Commission even if it delayed the review by a year, its chairman said this week. Sir John Banham promised the Association of County Councils annual conference on Wednesday that the commission would not 'stuff down the throats of local people unitary local government if they don't want it'.

After his speech, he said: 'As the law stands, ministers cannot impose a solution that we have not recommended'. This meant it could take more reports to find the right councils for Derbyshire. 'In theory this could take quite a long time. Derbyshire's been there a thousand years and we don't need to worry about a year here or there. There is no tearing hurry. The local people are in no hurry'. His remarks followed occasionally angry demands from some counties that he reassert his independence from the government. He told them he had resisted attempts from civil servants to interfere with his work as controller of the Audit Commission.

He said in general people preferred larger unitary authorities, provided they were not too remote, to district based unitaries or the existing two tiers. But he said unitary metropolitan councils had not brought the improvements in management which unitary councils offered.

Sir John also reiterated his support for a voluntary and gradual implementation of unitary councils which he suggested would feature in a progress report due to be published next week. 'I know about big bang reorganisations and I can tell you they cost more, take longer and deliver less than any of the proponents of change ever thought possible', he said.

On Tuesday, Labour attacked the government and commission of 'bungling incompetence' over the publication of a letter which Shadow Environment Secretary Jack Straw said questioned the recommendations' legality.

Derbyshire CC Leader Martin Doughty wrote to Clive Wilkinson, one of the commissioners who wrote the report, to complain. Mr Doughty said he was 'astounded' that Sir John should suggest the possibility of alternatives to what Mr Wilkinson had said on the same day was the best structure for the area.

Mr Wilkinson refused to comment on the letter which he said was private. Association of District Councils Secretary Geoffrey Filkin said people did not want bigger councils but ones 'as local as they could possibly get'.

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