Blair ready to ditch elected councils

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

"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 co-operate with the Government he promises to legislate to give councils new responsibilities in health and crime prevention and possibly to receive 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 worried by the size of turn-outs 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 and the party group." He advocates citizen's juries, more polling, fewer committee meetings, more younger councillors, elected mayors - in short a revolution in the way councils operate.

His suggestions also refer to Whitehall. He suggests that the Department for Education and Employment brings in teachers to help it develop policy while the Department of Health consults social workers. Meanwhile, civil servants could usefully be sent on secondments to the town halls.

Mr Blair's remarks amplify the programmatic speech he made at Labour's local government conference in Scarborough last month. Since then it has become clear that few big city councils are keen on his idea for elected mayors.

It is unclear, so far, just how Mr Blair intends to use Labour Party disciplinary and selections machinery to fulfil his ambition of getting rid of the older male contingent in councils and replacing them with more attractive-looking younger people.