David Curry, the local government minister, said of the current review of local councils: 'The Government does not intend that there should be a host of small unitary authorities at the end of this exercise. It is not the intention that existing districts by and large become unitary councils.'
It was the first time ministers have made plain what they want to see at the end of the review, being conducted by the Local Government Commission for England.
The commission's remit isETHER write error to produce proposals aimed at replacing the existing two-tier structure of districts and counties with single, all-purpose authorities. The districts want to run themselves, but the minister yesterday ruled this out, except in exceptional circumstances.
Replacing the present system with a multiplicity of councils would not achieve the Government's aim. Councils had to be able to supply strategic services, such as highways and social services.
Districts had to come together and put forward proposals for Sir John Banham, chairman of the commission, to consider.
Mr Curry told a local government conference in London that Government wanted change, and would not accept a large number of proposals based on the status quo. It was up to councils to show leadership and command public acceptance of change.
Martin Easteal, chief executive of the commission, told councils they had to 'stop squabbling' among themselves and come forward with agreed solutions.