HC Deb 22 November 1993 vol 233 cc8-10W
Mr. David Atkinson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will announce the details of the accelerated programme of reviews of local government structure in England.

Mr. Curry

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today directed the Local Government Commission to begin reviews of the remaining shire counties on 13 December and to submit all reports on or before 31 December 1994.

He also directed the commission to have regard to the revised policy guidance published on 2 November, and the revised procedure guidance, published today, in conducting these reviews. A copy of the procedure guidance has been placed in the Library of the House and additional copies are available in the Vote Office.

We are giving the commission the flexibility it needs to achieve the demanding programme of work which we have set for it. We are not changing the nature of the process, which is enshrined in the legislation. But we are no longer setting prescriptive time limits for every stage of a review, so that the commission can proceed in each area on a time scale that meets local circumstances. We are, however, quite clear that the length of time allowed for public consultation must not be reduced below two months, as my right hon. Friend announced at the end of September.

We are keen for the commission to submit a steady flow of reports from mid-1994. This will mean that within the wider timetable, individual county reviews will be phased. The commission has discussed a programme with the local authority associations, and today announced its intended sequence of county reviews. We endorse this programme. The table shows the dates by which initial proposals from groups of authorities or others should be submitted to the commission, and the dates when the Secretary of State expects to receive the final reports.

Those areas in the first phase include the old second tranche reviews which had been suspended pending publication of revised guidance. They will now be restarted to allow local authorities and interested parties to look again at their initial submissions.

The direction and the procedure guidance have been framed so as to allow solutions across shire county boundaries to be examined where these are the most sensible way forward. Some proposals of this kind have already been made, and others may follow. But we expect that in most cases it will not be necessary to look outside county areas to find structures on which local agreement can be reached.

My right hon. Friend has already announced that he intends to direct the commission to look at the boundaries of metropolitan areas after it has completed the shire reviews. We anticipate that any boundary issues between the shire counties and the metropolitan areas will be examined as part of the wider metropolitan review. This will allow the commission to proceed swiftly with its current work programme.

The announcement today means that the commission, local authorities and others can get on with the business of developing structural options which would deliver convenient and effective local government.

Most hon. Members have already shown much interest in the review and will no doubt wish to work with the local authorities to help them reach agreement on the best structure for their area. We expect a local consensus on structure to be a promising starting point for the commission.

Proposed phasing for initial stage of review
County Date initial representations due Target Date for final report
Leicestershire end February end July
Suffolk end February end August
Hereford and Worcester
Wiltshire end March end September
East Sussex
West Sussex end April end October
Shropshire end May end November