“Dozens more elected mayors and the abolition of many councils are being planned under a shake-up of local government due to be unveiled next month………However, a fight looms over plans to abolish significant numbers of district councils, many of them Tory-controlled, as part of plans for a slimmed-down local government system.”
Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor www.thetimes.co.uk
Dozens more elected mayors and the abolition of many councils are being planned under a shake-up of local government due to be unveiled next month.
Ministers want to devolve more power to areas that agree to new elected mayors, who they argue are more accountable and better at boosting local economies.
However, a fight looms over plans to abolish significant numbers of district councils, many of them Tory-controlled, as part of plans for a slimmed-down local government system.
Downing Street denied that they wanted to abolish two thirds of authorities by replacing district councils with unitary authorities, and insisted change would happen only with local consent.
However, ministers do want to move towards more single-tier council areas, which the County Councils Network estimates would save £3 billion a year.
District councils oppose the move, saying it would create unwieldy mega-authorities responsible for more than a million people each, far larger than local government units in other countries.
A cap of about 600,000 people in any unitary authority is being considered as one way of avoiding this.
A spokesman for the local government ministry said: “We want to devolve and decentralise to give more power to local communities, providing opportunities for all areas to enjoy devolution. But there will be no blanket abolition of district councils and no top-down restructuring of local government.”
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, will publish a white paper on devolution next month, which the spokesman said “will set out our detailed plans and we continue to work closely with local areas to establish solutions to local government reform”.
About four in ten residents in England will be represented by city mayors once West Yorkshire elects its first next year and ministers say directly elected leaders “stimulate job creation, build homes, improve transport and reduce local carbon emissions”.
Despite the distraction of the coronavirus pandemic, government sources say that “now is the time to finish what we’ve started” by allowing more mayors.
Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of Tees Valley, is seen as the prototype for winning Tory control of local government in the north and Midlands. A government source told The Sunday Times: “This is all about red wall empowerment. It’s about giving a stronger voice to the regions and levelling up by handing more power down to the people and breaking Labour’s traditional stranglehold over local authorities, especially in the north.”