Six week delay over unitary decision
AS THE CLOCK ticks closer to the expected deadline for a final recommendation on reorganisation of local government in Devon, there are signs that the timetable – and the goalposts – may be moving.
AS THE CLOCK ticks closer to the expected deadline for a final recommendation on reorganisation of local government in Devon, there are signs that the timetable - and the goalposts - may be moving.
The Boundary Committee, which has been asked by Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Secretary Hazel Blears to consider scrapping the current effective set-up in favour of a single unitary system of local government in Devon, has just been given fresh instructions and new advice by the Minister. The same applies to other areas of England facing a similar threat.
In a note to the Director of the Boundary Committee, Archie Gall, the DCLG's Deputy Director Paul Rowsell, advises that the Minister is heeding claims by councils in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk that too little time has been allowed for the financial cases supporting the change to a unitary county to be considered. A six-week delay is now on the cards.
The original deadlines called on the Boundary Committee to make its final recommendation by 31 December, with a decision likely from the Minister on or after 14 February 2009. If adopted, the Boundary Committee's primary recommendation of a new unitary Devon would become operative in April 2010.
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The new dates proposed are that the Boundary Committee's final submission should be made by 13 February, with the Minister's decision being taken on or near 31 March 2009. However, the launch date of April 2010 would not change, so any new authority would have less than 12 months to get ready for action.
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The latest advice from the DCLG is not restricted to dates. The interpretation of earlier guidance has been "clarified" so that the sums on affordability and funding reserves can now be done differently.
Councillor Sara Randall Johnson, Leader of East Devon District Council, said: "There is more than a suspicion that the goalposts are being moved. My advice to the Government - and their Westcountry Labour MPs - is to be careful they don't score a massive 'own goal', because that's the danger of this crazy concept".
In the light of these latest developments, EDDC is now considering its position with regard to the legal challenge it was proposing to mount against the Boundary Committee's activities.