Straw outlines a shake-up

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The Independent Online
Labour's plans for elected regional assemblies are dependent on a further reorganisation of local government, Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, indicated yesterday, writes Nicholas Timmins.

The "extraordinary inconsistency and incompetence" of the the local government commission, which meant that only eight of the 39 shire counties would be broken up and reduced to single-tier authorities meant elected assemblies would have to be put back, he said.

"The one thing we have all been clear about in England is that you could not conceivably establish elected regional assemblies as well as having a tier of shire counties and districts underneath," he said on BBC1's On the Record. As a result the time-scale Labour had been working to "is longer than had previously been anticipated".

Mr Straw stressed that Labour's approach would involve existing councillors being appointed to a regional body which would then provide democratic oversight of existing quangos and regional government offices and the regional development agencies that Labour plans. Directly elected bodies could follow where regions opted for that. It would, however, require reorganisation of local government into single-tier authorities - not least to avoid the charge that Labour was creating an extra tier of bureaucracy.

Mr Straw said Labour would not "foist" elected authorities on areas that did not want them, adding: "It has never been part of Labour's plans for there to be regional parliaments [in England] with tax-raising powers".