Blair ready to ditch elected councils

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TONY BLAIR will today tell Labour councillors that unless they cooperate with Whitehall in carrying forward his plans for local services, they will be replaced, probably by non-elected quangos, writes David Walker.

"If you are unwilling to work to the modern agenda then the Government will have to look to other partners to take on your role," he says in a pamphlet for the Institute of Public Policy Research, the Labour-inclined think-tank.

He also offers councillors a carrot. If they cooperate, he promises to legislate to give them new responsibilities in health and crime prevention and possibly a cut of the business rates which the Thatcher government removed from local control.

In unvarnished language - for a Prime Minister - he says that the choice confronting the town and county halls is now clear: they are either for him or against him.

The quality of services, including schools, is at present too variable, Mr Blair writes. He compares the unevenness of councils with the situation in Victorian times when "a patchwork quilt of boroughs, boards and committees" overlapped and competed with each other. The way forward is not some rationalisation of powers in councils' favour. Instead future councils must act as impresarios in their areas, guaranteeing quality services but not themselves being service providers.

Mr Blair is evidently deeply worried by the size of turnouts at local government elections and calls for bright ideas about increasing participation. "Councils need to avoid getting trapped in the secret world of the caucus," he says.

He advocates citizen's juries, more polling, fewer committee meetings, more young councillors, elected mayors - in short, a revolution in the way councils now operate.

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