Banham quits in row over reform of counties

Sir John Banham, the man in charge of controversial plans to reorganise local government, resigned yesterday as the Government announced a big change in direction for the long-running review.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, told the Commons that he was "most grateful to Sir John Banham for having offered his resignation" as chairman of the Local Government Commission.

In a short written statement, Sir John, who had abrasive relationships with a succession of ministers, defended the commission's performance. ``I well recognise that the commission has not done the bidding either of the Government or of the Parliamentary Labour Party,'' he said. Mr Gummer spelt out new reviews of districts, covered by fresh guidance to the commission. The move may prolong uncertainty in the 39 shire counties of England for 12 months.

The aim of the reorganisation is to find a more popular, efficient structure for councils outside England's seven biggest conurbations than today's two- tier system which dates to the 1974 reorganisation.

County councils run education, social services and a few other services, while smaller district councils have a further range of tasks such as refuse and council tax collection. The areas covered in the latest reviews include Blackburn, Blackpool, the Medway towns, Northampton, Peterborough, Thurrock and Warrington. But Mr Gummer raised the prospect of reviews on Broxtowe, Dartford, Exeter, Gedling, Gloucester, Gravesham, Halton, Huntingdonshire and Rushcliffe, in response to local pressure for each town to have single-tier council.

The headstrong style of the former director-general of the CBI earned him many critics. A Whitehall source said yesterday that his tenure of the commission "could not go on".

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