Whether or not councils move to unitary status, all councils at district and county level will have to develop
far more effective ways of working together. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made a point about the problems of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in some areas with a two-tier system. That proposal will not change for the areas that do not get a unitary system; they will all have to work better and more effectively, whatever the outcome.
We are talking about the devolutionary principle, and about the Government giving local authorities the opportunity to make a bid for unitary status. We have received two bids from Northumberland. This is a new era of local government, and when it comes to the choices about how we move forward, it is down to local councils, their partners and their citizensin this case, the citizens of Northumberlandto make responses to the Government.
Mr. Beith: I did ask the Minister a question of which I gave her office notice earlier today: if the Government were unwisely contemplating acceptance of the single authority proposal, would that be treated as a continuing authority under the 1992 legislation, as that has pretty serious implications?
Angela E. Smith: We are jumping ahead a little bit in presuming the outcome; decisions have not been taken. The right hon. Gentleman used the term, continuing authority, which has sometimes been used in the past during reorganisations. Any unitary authority implemented as a result of the current process would be, as generally understood, a brand new authority; it would not be a continuing authority. The use of the term continuing authority was for a technical reason in relation to proceeding with a new organisation. No decisions have been taken on how a particular proposal would be implemented. A working group of stakeholders has been set up to examine all the implementation proposals. Within the limits of the legislation, we are prepared to be flexible on that. His point is noted, but no decision has been taken on implementation.