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Local Government: Future Unitary Structures

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2007

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

On 30 January I announced that in response to our invitation to councils we had received 26 proposals from local authorities for the creation of unitary local government in their areas.

We have now completed our assessment of these proposals against the five criteria set out in the invitation. These criteria are that change to future unitary structures must be affordable, and be supported by a broad cross-section of partners and stakeholders; and the future structures must provide strong, effective and accountable strategic leadership, deliver genuine opportunities for neighbourhood flexibility and empowerment, and deliver value for money and equity on public services.

On the basis of this assessment, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has decided that the following unitary proposals will proceed to stakeholder consultation.

Councils Submitting Proposals

Proposed Unitary Structure

Bedford Borough Council

A unitary authority for Bedford

Bedfordshire County Council

A unitary authority for Bedfordshire

Cheshire County Council

A unitary authority for Cheshire

Chester City Council

Two unitary authorities for Cheshire

Cornwall County Council

A unitary authority for Cornwall

Cumbria County Council

A unitary authority for Cumbria

Durham County Council

A unitary authority for Durham

Exeter City Council

A unitary authority for Exeter

Ipswich Borough Council

A unitary authority for Ipswich

Northumberland County Council

A unitary authority for Northumberland

The Northumberland District Councils

Two unitary authorities for Northumberland

Norwich City Council

A unitary authority for Norwich on existing boundaries

North Yorkshire County Council

A unitary authority for North Yorkshire

Shropshire County Council

A unitary authority for Shropshire

Somerset County Council

A unitary authority for Somerset

Wiltshire County Council

A unitary authority for Wiltshire

In reaching her decision my right honourable friend has had regard to the submitted proposals, any supplementary material submitted by the proposers themselves, and other available relevant information. Her judgment is that there is at least a reasonable likelihood that these proposals, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by the five criteria.

We are launching this consultation today, seeking the views of partners and stakeholders in the areas affected by the proposals. As the invitation explains, partners and stakeholders include all local authorities, the wider public sector, the business community, and the voluntary and community sector. It is, however, open to anyone to respond to the consultation document that we are issuing today, copies of which are placed in the Library of the House.

We are in particular seeking views on the extent to which consultees believe that the proposals would deliver the outcomes specified by the criteria, and in the case of the alternative proposals for Bedfordshire, Cheshire and Northumberland, which of the alternatives in each case would better deliver those outcomes.

The consultation will run until 22 June 2007.

After the stakeholder consultation, we will consider very carefully all the representations that we have received. Proposals will proceed to implementation if, and only if, when we take our final decisions, we remain satisfied that they meet the criteria, and that the overall use of reserves remains affordable, having regard to the prevailing fiscal position and the risks around the estimated costs of implementation.

As explained in our original invitation, implementation of any proposals involving transitional costs financed by the use of reserves impacts on planned public expenditure totals. Any use of reserves must therefore in aggregate be within the limited envelope available.

It was because of this limited envelope that the invitation stated that the Government think it unlikely that they would be able to implement more than eight proposals, but that this maximum number would not preclude the Government from deciding to implement more if they offered good value for money and were affordable.

If when we take our final decisions there are more proposals that meet the criteria than we can afford to implement, we will prioritise in order to decide which ones to implement. We will consult during our main stakeholder consultation on the proposed means of prioritising restructuring proposals in such circumstances.

If implemented the proposals could, on the basis of current estimates, save up to around £200 million annually.

In those cases where there are alternative proposals, any decision on implementation will necessarily involve a decision as to which option should proceed. If we were to decide that Bedford Borough’s proposal should proceed to implementation we may need to consider the future local government structures in the remaining county area which might no longer be a viable two-tier area.

The legislative provision necessary to implement unitary proposals is contained in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill which is currently before the House.

Finally, in respect of the following proposals, my right honourable friend has decided that, having regard to the available relevant information, there is not a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, they would achieve all the outcomes specified in the five criteria, and that accordingly they should not proceed to stakeholder consultation.

Councils Submitting Proposals

Proposed Unitary Structure

Mid & South Bedfordshire District Councils

A unitary authority covering mid and south Bedfordshire

The Cornwall District Councils

A unitary authority for Cornwall

The Durham District Councils

A unitary authority for Durham

Ellesmere Port & Neston Borough Council

Three unitary authorities for Cheshire

East Riding of Yorkshire District Council

A unitary authority covering East Riding and Selby

Lancaster City Council

A unitary authority for Lancaster

Oxford City Council

Three unitary authorities for Oxfordshire

Burnley Borough Council

A unitary authority for Burnley

Preston City Council

A unitary authority for Preston

South Somerset District Council

Two unitary authorities for Somerset