Letter on councils questioned

JACK STRAW, Labour environment spokesman, yesterday demanded an explanation for the 'extraordinary' exchange of letters between Sir John Banham, chairman of the Local Government Commission for England, and government ministers.

Only hours after announcing final recommendations for Derbyshire, Cleveland and Co Durham, Sir John wrote to ministers to say he was disappointed not to be able to recommend unitary structures for their rural areas. Mr Straw called Sir John's letter bizarre. He asked David Curry, the local government minister, whether Sir John was casting doubt 'on the judgement of the commission in making the recommendations they have, since it implies that in the commission's eyes these were very much second-best solutions'.

He asked the minister to say whether the commission's final recommendations were now withdrawn. It proposed a continued two-tier structure for most of rural Derbyshire.

Josie Farrington, leader of the Association of County Councils, said the recommendations would undermine democracy and lead to government by quango.

She said the cost for local tax payers would be pounds 1.3bn. 'This is a tragic waste of public resources when councils have so many pressing needs.'