I WROTE a couple of months ago about the Government looking for district and county councils to volunteer to change to unitary authorities. Sure enough, I was summoned to Whitehall by David Miliband, the Local Government Minister, to be sounded out, a
I WROTE a couple of months ago about the Government looking for district and county councils to "volunteer" to change to unitary authorities.
Sure enough, I was summoned to Whitehall by David Miliband, the Local Government Minister, to be sounded out, along with about 70 other leaders.
We heard a lot about the theory that a single unitary authority should be more efficient than the two tiers that exist in this area. I was forced to agree. In theory it would be more efficient. Just like in theory the NHS ought to be able to manage on its budget this year; and like in theory they should have been able to build a new Scottish Parliament building for £50 million instead of £431 million (and in theory the roof should not have fallen in.)
It all took me back to a memo I once saw in Whitehall: "Obviously your idea would work in practice. However, what matters around here is whether it would work in theory; and on those grounds, I am afraid it fails."
I am pleased to report that there was no significant level of support within my cross-party group of 70 for going for such a change. "Just let us get on with what we are doing without such distractions" was the pervasive message from all except three or four.
I did ask whether it was a search for real volunteers or another process in the Charles Clarke mould. Mr Miliband gave me a silent smile (which was as much as I would have done in his position.) However, one of his sidekicks, Phil Woolas, MP, did make a public statement at about the same time. He said he was "99.999 per cent certain that restructuring without local agreement would be ruled out."
Of course, that is not quite the same as a categorical no.