Councils to have choice of 'opting-in' for review: Government U-turn on reorganisation plan

COUNCILS are to be allowed to decide whether they want a review of their structures in a significant ministerial U-turn on local government reorganisation in England.

It would mean abandoning the wholesale review of shire councils in England, which was aimed at replacing two-tier (county and district) councils with all-purpose authorities. Any change in the review rules will be resisted fiercely by the district councils, and is likely to provoke battles in the courts.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, is this week expected to announce changes in the way the Local Government Commission for England should conduct its review.

He is expected to make the process voluntary, so that councils will only get a review if they 'opt-in'. He is also likely to impose a 'hurdle' - insisting that requests for review will have to be backed by councils representing 50 per cent of the area's population.

The expected changes are fraught with legal difficulty. The Commission has completed the first tranche of the review, including draft proposals to abolish Avon, Cleveland and Humberside county councils, and in Derbyshire to replace the nine districts with two authorities.

Many of the proposals have been highly controversial. If the minister now changes the rules before the process is complete, he will be vulnerable to applications for judicial review from aggrieved councils in this first tranche.

The district councils see the proposed change as a way of substantially stopping the review, without the Government having to say so. Lady Elizabeth Anson, chairman of the Association of District Councils said last night: 'I am very alarmed at this idea of opting in. To go for an 'opting-in' system with hurdles would be a weak compromise from the Government given its firm commitment to the review. It is ill-advised to, in effect, give councils a veto over others' aspirations. Such a system could be even more divisive for local government than the present proposals,' she said.

Jack Straw, the Labour environment spokeman, has told Mr Gummer that his party would strongly oppose any 'political tampering' with the review. In a letter to the minister he said Labour was 'wholly opposed to the abandonment of the review process, or to the imposition, at this stage well into the review, of some kind of 'opting-in' process.

'This could lead to quite unnecessary, and often unproductive local dissent, and to an extraordinary mish-mash of arrangements based on no clear principles but on the accident of whether particular counties happened to apply and then meet any opting-in criteria.'

He added: 'An effective refusal to allow for a review in certain areas (those which failed to meet opting-in criteria) would also open the Government to charges of partisanship, especially given the clear decision of your colleagues, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, to review local government in the whole of those countries.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine