Bob Neill, the Shadow Local Government Minister, outlines Conservative plans to halt any attempt by the Government to impose unitary restructuring on Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk before the General election.
The last week has seen the latest example of this dying Government’s scorched earth policy. Sadly it is residents in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk who will suffer higher council tax bills to pay for the re-organisation with the only obvious change being that town halls will be more distant and less accountable to local people.
The Government looks set to announce that it will abolish entire tiers of local government in Conservative-controlled Devon, Suffolk and Norfolk: not because it is the right thing to do, but to try and create division amongst Conservatives in the run-up to a general election and erode our local government base, which is obviously something they have conspicuously failed to do through the ballot box in the last thirteen years. There is no other explanation behind this devious plan as there is certainly no public demand for unitary government in these counties.
The financial case for moving around the deckchairs of local government has been comprehensively rubbished. As Professors Michael Chisholm and Steve Leach have noted in their definitive book on Labour's imposition of unitary councils - aptly entitled 'Botched Business':
"The Government was economical with the truth about LGR [local government restructuring], selective and inconsistent in its use of evidence, with the result that misleading impressions have been conveyed to local authorities, the public and Parliament".
It goes without saying that Conservatives in Westminster will fight Labour every step of the way as the legislation passes through both Houses and let us be in no doubt, Labour are going to have a very difficult time, as it is a huge abuse of process to ram nakedly political legislation through Parliament so close to an election.
But today I can go further and say that because this round of restructuring is so contrary to our desire to give more power to local communities any incoming Conservative Government will revoke any legislation and stop the entire process straight away.