Minister 'meddled in council review': Letter told local government body to suspend work

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SIR JOHN BANHAM, who is chairing the independent review of local government, yesterday accused ministers of trying to interfere with the way his commission does the job, writes Ngaio Crequer.

He told MPs on the Commons environment select committee that he had been told by a minister to suspend work on the second part of the review, involving Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Hampshire.

Sir John said afterwards that David Curry, the local government minister, had sent him the instruction because new policy guidance - now in draft form - had not yet been issued. But in a covering letter, the minister had told him to carry on. Sir John said he wanted to draw attention to 'the absurdity which involves the minister sending a direction and countermanding it in the covering letter'.

Under questioning by MPs, Sir John revealed that the original proposals for Derbyshire - one authority for Derby and another for the remaining area - had been changed because of public opposition. 'We will not force down unwilling throats a structure that local people do not think appropriate.'

Sir John also questioned why it was taking the Government so long to respond to the commission's proposals for local government on the Isle of Wight. There had been cross-party support for a proposal for a single unitary authority, which the commission had endorsed.

He said that if the commission's proposals were turned down he would have to consider his position.

(Photograph omitted)