03 September 2004
The build-up to November's vote on an elected assembly in the Northeast has erupted into a row over the potential cost of the new system.
Durham and Northumberland county councils went head-to-head with district authorities following claims that a vote in favour of dividing counties into several unitary authorities could lead to council tax hikes of up to £200 per household.
November's vote will ask residents in the Northeast to make two choices about how they should be represented.
The first will be a straight 'yes' or 'no' vote in favour of an elected regional assembly to assume financial control of areas such as housing and transport.
The second will ask voters to choose between a single, county-wide system of supplementary local government or a split of the counties' functions into either two or three unitary authorities.
Durham and Northumberland this week put forward a strong case for the switch to a single system.
Using figures approved by the Local Government Association, Northumberland leader Michael Davey estimated that a single council would cost £11.3m per year – around £106 per household – and would cost £13m less to establish.
Durham's leader, Ken Manton, told Public Finance: 'There is no doubt that a single authority would be more cost-effective. It appears there are no grounds for numerous unitaries.'
But Alan Napier, leader of the District of Easington Council, rejected the counties' figures as 'nonsense'.
'The Boundary Commission has made clear that claims that one council will be the cheapest option are not proven,' he said.