My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 5 December 2007 I announced to the House the five unitary proposals that the Secretary of State had decided to implement without modification, having considered all the information and representations available to her.
In the case of the unitary proposals for Cheshire, I announced on 5 December that there remained alternative proposals for the whole area concerned which, as I confirmed to the House in July, we judged reasonably likely to achieve the outcomes specified in the five criteria. I assured the House at the time that we would make final decisions as soon as we could.
Having now considered all the information and representations available to her, including the very large volume of additional material that she has received since July, the Secretary of State remains of the view that there is a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, both proposals would meet the outcomes specified by each of the criteria set out in the invitation of 26 October 2006.
Overall, she has decided that it is more likely that the long-term outcomes around strategic leadership, neighbourhood empowerment and value for money and equity on public services would be delivered to the greater extent by the proposal for a two-unitary Cheshire. This is the process that we set out in the consultation document Means of Prioritising Proposals issued in June 2007. She has therefore decided to confirm her earlier “minded to” decision, and accordingly intends to implement the proposal for two unitary authorities in Cheshire by order made under Section 7 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.
It is now for all the councils in Cheshire, their members and employees, to work constructively and imaginatively together to deliver two new unitary councils that will achieve their full potential for local residents. Local people will rightly expect nothing less than their successful delivery.
In the case of the unitary proposals from Bedford Borough Council and Bedfordshire County Council, I confirmed on 5 December that, on the basis of the information then available to her, the Secretary of State remained minded to implement Bedford Borough Council’s proposal subject to there being a satisfactory proposal for the rest of the county area. I notified the House on 19 November that the Secretary of State had invited the other councils in Bedfordshire by 17 December to make proposals for future unitary local government structures in the remainder of the county area.
We have now received a response to this further invitation from the remaining district councils in Bedfordshire—Mid and South Bedfordshire District Councils. In accordance with Section 7(3) of the 2007 Act, we will tomorrow be launching a consultation seeking the views of partners and stakeholders in the areas affected by the proposals for Bedfordshire. Partners and stakeholders include all local authorities, the wider public sector, the business community, and the voluntary and community sector. It will, however, be open to anyone to respond to the consultation document that we are issuing, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House.
After the stakeholder consultation, we will consider very carefully all the representations that we have received. Any proposal or proposals will proceed to implementation if, and only if, when we take our final decisions, we remain satisfied that they meet all the criteria set out in the invitation.