Parliament and Politics: Gummer accepts ruling on 'two-tier' councils

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Indy Politics
JOHN GUMMER, the Secretary of State for the Environment, confirmed yesterday that he would not appeal against a High Court judgment that he was wrong to steer local government reform towards recommending unitary authorities.

Mr Gummer told the Commons that the work of the Local Government Commission for England, chaired by Sir John Banham, would continue and the commission would exercise its own judgement - 'something that has never been in dispute', he said.

Last week, the High Court struck out a sentence in revised policy guidance issued by the minister which said that two-tier authorities - counties and districts - should only be the exception. Mr Gummer told MPs the Government still believed unitary authorities would often be the best way of achieving effective and convenient local government.

He added: 'However, there is no national blueprint and the Government does not rule out consideration of two tiers in particular circumstances, with or without changes to the status quo, where a strong case for that is made.'

The decision makes it easier for the commission to recommend no change, or continuation of existing two-tier councils, when this is seen to be popular with residents.

The Association of County Councils welcomed the decision of the minister not to appeal against the High Court decision, but said more time was now needed for the review.

Dennis Pettitt, chairman of the association, said: 'I regret the Secretary of State's general support for unitary local government. The association has no objection to new unitary authorities, provided they will improve services, cost less and have solid public support.' He said unitary authorities should not be forced on an unwilling public and structure should not be changed unless there was something better to be put in its place.

Social services directors yesterday called for the whole review to be suspended, warning that the Government's community care policies and child protection procedures were being put at risk.

The Association of Directors of Social Services said the evidence from the reviews so far completed was that the implications for social services were not being properly taken into account.

Community care depended heavily on good relations between county-wide social services and the NHS, while small single-tier social services departments would risk being unable effectively to deal with children at risk, and those with learning difficulties and physical handicap.