The statutory process for establishing unitary authorities requires a council to make a unitary proposal in response to an invitation from the Secretary of State, and does not provide for any public consultation in advance of such an invitation.
I invite the Minister to extend that invitation to Colchester borough council without further ado, because Essex county council is an appalling local authority which should be abolished. May I advise her that, as I told one of her colleagues last year, surveys in Colchester show that 75 per cent. of the population wish to break away from Tory-controlled county hall because, as the only local authority in Essex not run by the Conservatives, my local council suffers political discrimination from the Conservatives at county hall?
As Minister for the East of England, I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I would advise him to get Colchester council to request the Secretary of State to make such an invitation. I know that the hon. Gentleman has met the Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination about this, and I understand his concerns well.