I can see the advantages of unitary authorities. There is more accountability. For instance, if the Council Tax bill is made up of different elements, it is harder to be clear about who is responsible for it. There are also savings in having fewer layers of politicians and officials. Lord Heseltine is producing a report which is expected to call for a "path to unitary status."
On the other hand, voluntary arrangements for sharing services can also achieve savings without forced reorganisation. In any event, Lord Heseltine's proposal is not likely to be taken up.
The Department for Communities and Local Government feels that now is not the time. Even if there might be long term savings, the short term costs of reorganisation are considerable.
The Municipal Journal reports (£):
The review, commissioned by the Treasury and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), was set up in March this year to look at how the public sector interacted with the private sector, and how policies for economic growth could be pushed forward.
But the rejection of the plan before it is even put forward gives a signal of the extreme opposition from inside the DCLG – potentially putting it on a collision course with the Treasury and BIS which commissioned the review.
Since taking up his role as communities secretary, Eric Pickles has repeatedly claimed there would be no forced reorganisation. In an early move by Mr Pickles, the Government scrapped plans for reorganisation in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk, saving £40m in reorganisation costs.
Why should Whitehall decide on all this? As with directly elected mayors, these arrangements should vary locally, according to local decisions.