CBI chief attacks councils review

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

HOWARD DAVIES, director general of the CBI, has accused ministers of turning the review of local government into 'an exercise in bureaucratic job creation across the country'.

Mr Davies has written to John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, to say he is 'appalled' by recent changes made by ministers to the policy guidance for the review.

Succumbing to pressure by district councils, Mr Gummer announced on 30 September that the review of the districts and counties should be speeded up. Where districts and counties agreed on changes themselves, 'this should be the most promising starting point', Mr Gummer said.

But he also said that the Local Government Commission for England, which is conducting the review, is now not 'precluded from recommending an option which would be marginally more expensive than the status quo'.

Mr Davies says in his letter, which he has copied to Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury: 'We have always suspected that local government reorganisation could turn out to be an expensive hobby for the Government. Our only comfort has been that the commission itself was not allowed to recommend more expensive options. Now that you have removed that restriction - and we are not remotely comforted by the word 'marginally' - this looks to be an exercise in bureaucratic job creation across the country.

'It seems quite astonishing that the Government should make such a change at a time when there is an obvious need to restrain the growth in public spending. We hope that, in the very short period you have allowed for consultation before making this guidance definitive, you will reconsider this change.'