Reform of council rejected by review

GLOUCESTERSHIRE'S two-tier council structure should be kept, the Local Government Commission for England said yesterday, contrary to the Government's position on council reform that the status quo should only prevail in 'exceptional' circumstances.

But the commission, which had proposed four unitary authorites in Gloucestershire, has now recommended no change. In Somerset, however, it has proposed three new unitary authorities.

The commission was set up to examine the case for unitary authorities to replace the structure of county and district councils. Two councils, Lancashire and Derbyshire, have already been given leave for judicial reviews over the way the commission is undertaking its work. The Government has asked the commission to look again at Derbyshire.

In a clear dig against local districts in Gloucestershire, the commission said there was no agreement between them on a unitary structure. 'Some had campaigned for the existing arrangements, others had put forward contradictory proposals which commanded little support,' it said.

Nor had polling been much help. A Mori survey showed that residents supported the principle of unitary authorities, but when asked about particular structures, 43 per cent preferred no change.

The commission keeps to its view that Avon county should be abolished. It proposes that Bristol should become a new unitary authority. The rest of Avon should be served by three new unitary authorities.

In Somerset it says the two-tier structure should be replaced by three authorities.

Communities Organised for a Greater Bristol, an alliance of pressure groups, criticised the plans as disruptive and expensive. Doug Henderson, the shadow local government minister, said: 'The reorganisation of local government is increasingly becoming a dog's breakfast.'