Council overhaul for Scotland

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THE END of Scotland's two-tier system of local government was announced yesterday.

Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, confirmed John Major's pronouncement last week on the end of 'monstrosities' like Strathclyde Region, when he said a new 'single-tier' map would be in place by 1996.

Mr Lang, speaking in Glasgow, launched both the findings of a report by accountants Touche Ross into the 'costs and savings' of reforming Scottish local government, and a consultation exercise on how many single-tier authorities Scotland should have.

The 105-page consulation document, The Structure of Local Government in Scotland, offers four prosals to replace the existing nine regional councils, 53 districts, and three island councils. The options considered are 15, 24, 35 and 51 council structures. Consultation will now go on until 29 January next year, with a White Paper expected next summer.

Mr Lang said: 'Assuming the necessary legislation can be put in place, the earliest date the new authorities could take effect would be 1 April 1996.' Elections would take place in May 1995.

The expected battle between existing authorities to retain some of their power will divert political attention from the question of Scotland's national position within the Union. The Prime Minister's 'taking stock' exercise has been consistently vague. Mr Lang has at least brought numbers into his consultation.

Touche Ross's analyis, based on a hypothetical staffing level for each of the proposed structures and comparing them with the existing authorities, estimates that savings of pounds 192m would be expected in the first year of a 15- council structure, with similar savings in future years.

For the 24-council set-up, savings of pounds 120m are predicted; and for a 35-council map the estimated savings are put at pounds 55m. The larger 51-council structure would have an additional cost of pounds 58m.

The cost of the reform process was put at: pounds 249m (15 councils) spread over six years; pounds 226m (24 councils); pounds 204m (35 councils) and pounds 185m for a 51-council system.

Charles Gray, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said: 'It is pretty clear that what the Secretary of State wants to do, before anything else, is to make sure the large Labour strongholds are done away with.'

The Structure of Local Government in Scotland: Shaping the New Councils; Local Government Reform Division, St Andrews House, Edinburgh.