Letter: Rush to decide future of county councils will create more problems

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Sir: I read with a sinking heart today's front-page story 'Ministers decide to wipe out county councils' (22 November). Nothing in our history of reforming local government fills me with confidence that we are going to get it right this time.

I have two reasons for doubt. The first is that the accelerated review is too hasty. We have just introduced, in the purchaser provider split, an extraordinarily powerful agent for change in the delivery of services, and this change has much more to do with customers than with areas. I believe we shall regret imposing a new area-based structure from above before we have had time to see where the new processes are going to lead us. For example, as community care settles down, the links between it and the health services become ever closer, and as the influence of fund-holding practices grows, I believe that the logic of keeping the NHS so separate from local government will need to be re-examined.

The second reason is that, as a Member of Parliament for Kent, I have a strong desire that the new structure will be able to deliver the kind of strategic thinking that will be able to help us cope with the changes forced upon us by the opening of the Channel tunnel. The recently delivered report by the county on the Channel tunnel rail link is a good example of the time-consuming, and therefore expensive, strategic analysis that such developments entail. There is also the local point that we are at present considerable gainers from our membership of a Euro region; the EC has already expressed doubts that we shall continue to be eligible for that status if we are split up into smaller groups.

I have no doubt that there is no need for a county council geared, as at present, to spending pounds 1bn per annum, but I have the gravest reservations about a centrally imposed carve-up of the counties to create new authorities that will be too big to command local affection and too small to deliver the sort of strategic thinking that will become ever-more important as a counterpoise to central government fashions. The original concept of the review was sensible, the present mad rush to judgement seems likely to create more problems than it will resolve.

Yours faithully,


MP for Kent Mid (Con)

House of Commons

London, SW1

22 November