Gummer reprieve for two councils

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Indy Politics

Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire county councils will be spared from abolition, John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, is expected to announce next week.

The Local Government Commission, set up to review the structure of local administration in English shires outside the seven largest conurbations, had recommended the two councils should be among seven county authorities to be abolished.

Mr Gummer is believed to have decided Milton Keynes,Buckinghamshire, and Luton,Bedfordshire, should be unitary councils, covering the full range of local government services.

Elsewhere in the two counties, he will call for the existing two- tier structure of district and county councils to remain, instead of the commission's proposal for more unitary councils.

Among those calling for the retention of the counties were two former Conservative foreign secretaries with local links, Lord Carrington and Lord Pym.

The Local Government Commission completed its recommendations last month. It had travelled England and consulted local opinion for two years. Now Mr Gummer is considering his response to its recommendations. What now seems likely to emerge is that at least 20 large towns and cities will gain self-governing status, with their own elected councils covering the full range of local government functions including education and social services.

In more rural areas, there will be a two-tier structure, with big county councils running education, social services and a few other services while smaller district councils run the remainder.

The county councils which the commission recommended abolishing were Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Dorset, along with the three new counties created at the last shire government reorganisation in 1974 - Avon, Humberside and Cleveland.

The Government has already accepted that the latter three should go, to be replaced by smaller, unitary councils and Parliament has already agreed to abolish Cleveland.

Berkshire and Dorset county councils had been in favour of abolition, but launched campaigns to save themselves after seeing how the commission proposes to split the counties into unitary councils. Berkshire had favoured four unitary councils, the commission recommended five and local Tory MPs want six.

The Government hoped unitary councils would predominate but the review is heading towards what Labour advocated in the late Seventies - mainly two- tier councils, with one tier in the larger towns and cities.