CHESHIRE will be ruled by two councils it was announced this week – as exclusively revealed by The Chronicle last month.
Secretary of State Hazel Blears will replace the current structure with a West Cheshire Council and an East Cheshire Council.
A Cheshire County Council proposal to create one all-purpose council for Cheshire was rejected as being too big and remote from the people, although the county is still fighting to overturn the decision.
The Government move means abolishing the county council and the six district councils including Chester City Council, Ellesmere Port & Neston and Vale Royal, who share the responsibilities of local government.
The aim is to make life simpler and cheaper for Council Tax-payers by setting up just two unitary councils which do everything – saving more than £16m a year and leading to a predicted 400 job losses across the county and 222 fewer councillors.
Mrs Blears had already indicated she was “minded” to proceed with this option but intense lobbying by the county council for the alternative one-council-for-Cheshire option, with the support of Crewe’s Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, led to a delay in the final decision.
Minister John Healey said in a ministerial statement: “Overall, she (Hazel Blears) has decided that it is more likely that the long-term outcomes around strategic leadership, neighbourhood empowerment and value for money and equity on public services would be delivered to the greater extent by the proposal for a two unitary Cheshire.”
Chester’s Labour MP Christine Russell said: “I just think the county council solution was too big, even these councils are going to be big councils, the third and fourth largest councils in the North West.
“I think it’s all about neighbourhood empowerment, bringing local government as close as possible to local communities.”
Parliamentary orders will be laid in January with the appointment of councillors to Shadow Cheshire East and Cheshire West councils shortly afterwards followed by elections in May, although the new authorities proper will not come into being until April 1, 2009. The headquarters is expected to be based in Chester.
Support for change was led by Chester City Council, which made the official submission, supported by Ellesmere Port & Neston, Macclesfield and Vale Royal councils.
City council leader Margaret Parker, whose Tory group only took power in May, is against such wholesale reform but taking a pragmatic view.
She said: “Government has made its intentions clear and if the proposals are confirmed by Parliament, we will work with the other groups on this council and with the other councils across Cheshire to ensure the efficient and effective transfer of responsibilities to the new authorities.
“We will do all we can to ensure that the high quality services currently received by the residents of Chester are protected and improved.”
A statement from Cheshire County Council made clear the authority had not given up the fight and “will now be reviewing all options available, including legal action”.
Chief executive Jeremy Taylor said: “Despite huge risks involved with the split county financial case; the cost of establishing two unitaries – £103m in five years – and overwhelming stakeholder support for a single unitary, the Government has chosen the ‘worst case scenario’.
“It’s illogical, absurd... and a very black day for the county of Cheshire.”