Armstrong enigmatic on English unitaries

14 Oct 99
Hilary Armstrong this week refused to rule out further local government reorganisation in England under New Labour.

15 October 1999

But the local government and regions minister said that any further plans to switch from multi-layered local government – areas ruled by district or borough and county councils – towards single-tier status would be delayed until after the next general election.

The minister was speaking at a New Local Government Network conference, Changing Times, Changing Roles, in central London on October 13. She said that in the event of a Labour victory, an expansion of unitary councils would depend upon the development of regional government and public demand.

'We are not doing anything on two tiers this side of a general election,' said the minister. 'If we are to move to a regional tier of government, there would be two conditions: one of these is single tier authorities; the other is that local people would support it.'

There is widespread opposition to unitaries among county councils as they fear they would have to make way for the new councils. Currently, there are 47 English unitary councils, responsible for all services. Many have been created from the demise of old county councils, such as the six new unitaries in Berkshire.

Both Scotland and Wales have only unitary councils.

Armstrong said that at the moment Labour's local government priority is making sure its modernisation programme is fully implemented. 'We are not anxious to return to [reorganisation], certainly until we get these reforms into place,' she said.

She again hinted that a local government bill focusing on political structures and ethics would be included in the next Queen's Speech.


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