A LEAKED letter seen by the Chronicle suggests the Government is keen to abolish district authorities like Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council and Congleton Borough Council, replacing them with 'supercouncils'.
This week Government representatives were listening to the views of council leaders and chief executives from across the country, including Cheshire, to gather views on how local government should look by as early as 2008
But the letter from David Miliband, minister of communities and local government, to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott indicates Labour already has its own ideas about how the new structure ought to look.
Mr Miliband does question whether the two-tier system - a county council and district councils working in parallel - delivers cost-effective services and accountability. But most of his wrath is aimed at the small district councils.
He states that the two-tier structure can be criticised for 'the existence of some 70 district councils with annual budgets of less than £10m and little resource or capacity to innovate, take a strategic view or respond to changing circumstances'.
In contrast, he seems to believe that 'biggest is best' in terms of making savings and driving down Council Tax bills, although he says such super-councils should be unitary authorities with the functions of both district and county councils.
He said: 'It is difficult to put figures on the likely scale of costs and savings at this stage, but initial work done by the SF Counties, which I have seen, suggests that reorganising Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, East and West Sussex to create seven unitary authorities would cost some £400m in the short term, but produce savings of around £134m per annum once restructuring was complete...'
Mr Miliband says the consultation period should be short but the gain could be 'genuinely local services backed up by stronger strategic authorities' and fewer councillors.
Cheshire County Council seems to believe that rather than seeing the proposals as a threat, this could be an opportunity to consolidate its powers.
Chief executive Jeremy Taylor says Government officials have questioned the county over the plans it worked up two years ago for a single tier strategic authority with local accountability through neighbourhood committees.
District councils say a Cheshire-wide council would be too big and remote. The districts are working with each other on an option to split Cheshire into three unitary councils - Crewe and Nantwich merging with Vale Royal, Congleton hooking up with Macclesfield and Chester joining Ellesmere Port and Neston.
The Government is looking for consensus and a possible compromise might be to create two councils serving West Cheshire and East Cheshire respectively.
Mr Miliband said: 'We will make our position clear in the Local Government White Paper in the middle of this year.'
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