Councils clash on restructure costs

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Indy Politics
COUNTY and district councils yesterday wrangled over the cost of changing their structures as the Local Government Commission's work on redrawing English local government got into its stride.

The Association of County Councils published a study claiming that abolition of the counties in favour of all-purpose districts would cost taxpayers pounds 780m a year - the equivalent of adding pounds 36 a head to the poll tax for every charge payer.

Doing the reverse - abolishing districts and letting counties run all services - would produce savings of pounds 720m over current expenditure, the study claimed - pounds 33 less on the poll tax or the full extra cost of implementing care in the community next year.

The study comes as the Local Government Commission has just started serious work on a review of local government structure from which ministers are keen to see more single-tier authorities emerge - believing it easier for electors to hold them accountable for spending. The first changes are due in 1994 with the work to be completed by 1998.

The ACC's study was commissioned from Coopers and Lybrand, which says it used the methodology for assessing indirect costs that the Government has given to the Local Government Commission as guidance.

Over 15 years, the difference between the two options would amount to more than pounds 15bn, the study estimates, with fewer senior managers needed and savings on computing and other costs.

The districts, which claim they can run all services without the need for the counties, rubbished the study. Lady Anson, the chair of the Association of District Councils, said the potential for savings from single-tier districts had been demonstrated in many cases.

The Department of the Environment also expressed scepticism. 'Estimates of the cost of savings from any particular structural change will depend on the precise proposals for each area,' it said.

The dispute came as John Redwood, Local Government Minister, published the first detailed guide from Government of the responsibilities of each council tier and the policy objectives councils are expected to pursue.