Woolas announces sixteen successful bids for unitary status to improve local services

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - 10:42 GMT Jump to Comments

Local Government Minister Phil Woolas today announced that sixteen councils bidding for unitary status have been short listed to go forward for consultation today.

If implemented the successful proposals could save up to around £200m per annum which can be directly transferred into improving front line services or used to reduce council tax bills.

Re-structuring will also help to prevent unnecessary inefficiency, confusion and duplication of services. For example currently in some areas maintaining the grass verges can be a matter for the parish council, keeping the pavement clean, the district councils, and keeping the road clean, the county council.

The Government has been closely examining twenty-six proposals submitted by local authorities in January against the criteria set out when they were invited to submit proposals. The criteria require that proposals are affordable and will provide stronger leadership, improve public services, empower local communities and have a broad cross section of support.

Ministers are determined to ensure that any proposals going forward represent value for money and can be met from councils' existing resources. These safeguards mean the changes will both increase efficiency and potentially reduce council tax bills.

Plans for re-structuring were announced as part of the radical Local Government White Paper in October in recognition that there are potential obstacles in two-tier authorities to providing strong, clear, local leadership, and public services that are effective and responsive. These obstacles include confusion amongst residents on the respective responsibilities of the tiers, duplication of services and inefficiencies between tiers.

At that time the Government said that it would be unlikely that more than eight proposals could be implemented due to the stringent affordability safeguards. However because of the strong quality of the submissions and good value for money that they offer the Government will confirm today that sixteen proposals will go through to consultation before a final decision is taken in July.

Local Government Minister Phil Woolas said:

"These changes are not only central to achieving the ambitions we set out in the White Paper of creating stronger leadership, greater accountability and more empowered communities, but they can also potentially save up to £204m per annum for front line services and reduce council tax too.

"The bids that local authorities submitted show that they are up for improving the services they offer to their communities by making them more responsive, effective and efficient. We have been impressed by their quality, value for money and their cross section of support which is why we can now go much further and proceed to the next stage in thirteen areas."

The successful proposals will now be subject to a 12 week Government consultation before a final decision to proceed to implementation is made in July. Subject to the Parliamentary process the Government expects those proceeding to implementation to be fully operational by April 2009.

Notes to Editors:

The full list of successful authorities is as follows:

Bedfordshire County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Bedford Borough Council - for a unitary Bedford
Cornwall County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Cheshire County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Chester City Council - for two unitary authorities for the county
Cumbria County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Durham County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Exeter City Council - for a single unitary authority for the city
Ipswich Borough Council - for a single unitary authority for the borough
North Yorkshire County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Northumberland County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Northumberland Districts - for two unitary authorities for the county
Norwich City Council - for a single unitary authority for the city on existing boundaries
Shropshire County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Somerset County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county
Wiltshire County Council - for a single unitary authority for the county

A consultation document Proposals for Future Unitary Structures: Stakeholder Consultation is published today. Stakeholders have until 22 June to submit responses.

In remaining two-tier areas Government expects all councils to pursue new working arrangements to achieve the same level of improvement and efficiency gains as we expect the new unitaries will be achieving. As part of this, Government also invited councils to submit proposals to pioneer, as pathfinders, new models of two-tier working. Five proposals have been submitted to Government and a decision on those proposals will be made after the local government election purdah.

As part of re-structuring the Government has insisted that any changes to future unitary local government structures must be:

affordable, ie that the change itself both represents value for money and can be met from councils' existing resource envelope; and
supported by a broad cross section of partners and stakeholders; and
those future unitary local government 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.

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