Shake-up of council review

THE Government yesterday succumbed to pressure from district councils and announced a new timetable for its review of local government, writes Ngaio Crequer.

John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, said the review of the shire counties should be completed by the end of 1994 - rather than 1997, which was the original intention.

He emphasised that local authorities, where they agree on changes themselves for merging districts or divisions of counties, should, under new guidelines, 'be the most promising starting point' for the commission studying local government reform.

The decision will prompt councils to join together to prevent other solutions being imposed upon them. It may also encourage district councils to renew their bids to merge and run themselves as unitary authorities.

The Labour Party yesterday said that the Government's climbdown was the worst of all worlds. Doug Henderson, shadow local government minister, said: 'This is a panic announcement by a department terrified to face the Tory conference.'

But the district councils welcomed the decision as 'a good, firm move by government'. The county councils said that local people should still be allowed to exercise their democratic right to keep county councils as strategic authorities.