Local elections could be cancelled in 2007

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The proposal has enraged the Conservatives, who suspect a political move to avoid elections at a time when Tony Blair could be in the process of handing over office to Gordon Brown.

About 300 English councils are due to hold elections in May 2007. By that time, the Government hopes to have passed legislation reorganising local government, which would mean electing the new councils in 2008, so that they could take over in 2009. A White Paper on local council reform is due in November.

It is expected to end the patchwork of borough and county councils in England, in which some people live with three tiers of local government - a parish, district and county council - while others have just one.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has long been pushing for single-tier councils and regional assemblies. The plan to scrap next year's elections was revealed in minutes of a meeting between council leaders and officials from John Prescott's department, which was leaked to the BBC.

The shadow Local Government minister, Eric Pickles, said: "The cat is out of the bag on John Prescott's costly plans to scrap borough and county councils to make way for his unelected regional pen-pushers. Now Labour are preparing to deprive local people of their vote in May 2007 so this can go ahead.

"Mr Blair is running scared. The unpopular council tax revaluation has already been postponed, but that wasn't enough. He knows cancelling these mid-term elections is the only way for Labour to avoid a painful drubbing at the polls. This is Blair's Government treating the constitution like Labour's personal Lego set."

David Miliband, the Local Government minister, who is expected to begin consultations with council leaders soon, denied the elections would be cancelled.

He said: "We expect and intend the 2007 elections to go ahead. We are having a mature discussion and we will make our position clear in the middle of this year."

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