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Local Government: Future Unitary Structures

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2007

My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Our local government White Paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities, made clear that the status quo in two-tier areas is not an option. Accordingly, in parallel with the White Paper’s publication in October 2006 we invited councils in two-tier areas to submit by 25 January 2007 proposals for unitary status. We also invited bids from councils to pioneer as pathfinders new two-tier models.

We have now received 26 bids for unitary status and five pathfinder bids. These are:

Unitary Bids

Councils Submitting Proposals

Proposed Unitary Structure

1. Bedford Borough Council

Bedford unitary

2. Bedfordshire County Council

County unitary

3. Cheshire County Council

County unitary

4. Chester City Council

2 unitary option for Cheshire

5. Cornwall County Council

County unitary

6. Cornwall districts

County unitary

7. Cumbria County Council

County unitary

8. Durham County Council

County unitary

9. Durham districts

Future unitary status for county area

10. East Riding District (an existing unitary)

East Riding and Selby

11. Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council

3 unitary option for Cheshire

12. Exeter City Council

Exeter unitary

13. Ipswich Borough Council

Ipswich unitary

14. Lancaster City Council

Lancaster unitary

15. Mid Bedfordshire District Council & South Bedfordshire District Council

Unitary covering both districts

16. North Yorkshire County Council

County unitary

17. Northumberland County Council

County unitary

18. Northumberland districts councils

2 unitary option for Northumberland

19. Norwich City Council

Norwich unitary 

20. Oxford City Council

3 unitary option for Oxfordshire

21. Pendle Borough Council & Burnley Borough Council

Burnley and Pendle unitary

22. Preston City Council

Preston unitary

23. Shropshire County Council

County unitary 

24. Somerset County Council

County unitary 

25. South Somerset District Council

East Somerset unitary 

26. Wiltshire County Council

County Unitary

Pathfinder Proposals

1. Buckinghamshire

2. Dorset

3. Hertfordshire

4. Lincolnshire

5. Suffolk

All bids will now be carefully considered. Unitary proposals will be assessed against the criteria specified in the invitation to decide which proposals will go forward for stakeholder consultation. We intend to announce our decisions in March, and launch the consultation at the end of March with a 12-week consultation period.

The criteria are that any change to future unitary structures must be affordable, and be supported by a broad cross-section of partners and stakeholders; and that the future structures must provide strong, effective and accountable leadership, deliver genuine opportunities for neighbourhood flexibility and empowerment, and deliver value for money and equity on public services.

Following the stakeholder consultation on proposals, the Government will reassess those proposals and intend to announce by the end of July 2007 which proposals will proceed to implementation.

We will also assess the pathfinder bids, and intend to announce after the March announcement on unitary proposals which pathfinders we will be working with as they develop their innovative two-tier models.

The period for submitting bids has now ended, and we have no plans to issue any further invitations. Councils everywhere need to ensure that their focus remains on delivering improved outcomes for their communities by working effectively with all partners and stakeholders.

In those areas for which there are one or more unitary proposals, all councils should now avoid any action that might prejudice the future, whatever the outcome of the bid. In all other areas, where it is already clear that the two-tier structure will continue, we expect councils to pursue improved ways of working together, delivering for their communities that strong local leadership, increased efficiency, better value for money, and reduced council tax potentially offered by unitary options.