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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."

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Of course, that is not quite the same as a categorical no.

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