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Whether the order is quashed will now be within the discretion of the court and we will have to await the judgment. The court could find against the Government but could also decide not to quash the order, so there are clearly a number of possible options. We shall just have to await the judgment of the court.
Baroness Andrews: It is perfectly proper and correct for us to deal with these orders on Monday. We shall not have the result of the appeal by then, obviously. We shall await the judgment and, depending on the options that we face, respond accordingly. I am afraid that I cannot say more than that at the moment.
Lord Geddes: Has the Minister any feel at all for when the results of the appeal will be available? I understand that the case has been looked into and it is just that the decision has been deferred. If that is correct and if it is a matter of, say, a weekI am guessing; I do not know the answerit would seem to make sense to wait a week so that everyone knows where they are.
Baroness Andrews: Yes. I was grateful for how the noble Lord addressed the other important points. With regard to what he said about the degree of detailed scrutiny in the other place, we have more detached debate on these issues in this place, and it is incumbent on me seriously to address the questions that the noble Lord raises.
On popular support, I do not want to reiterate what I said at some length in my opening speech. However, in Wiltshire, there was both a significant amount of campaign correspondence and an Ipsos MORI poll surveying about 1,200 residents. What was interesting about the postal polling was that, as was borne out by some academic work in Shropshire, postal polls of this order are not subject to the rigour of voting by post. The Electoral Reform Society may be involved but it does not oversee the process in that way, so there is a question over the validity of how some of that polling reflects genuine opinion. We must therefore be careful about how we treat some of it, which is what we said in our correspondence. Nevertheless, about a third of those returns showed that people were in favour.
The other bit of polling in Wiltshire showed that 78 per cent of residents were in favour of the status quo but were looking for more co-operation between councils. When they were asked the question in another way, 81 per cent said that they wanted more information on any proposal before making a proper decision, and 53 per cent agreed that with a single council it would be clearer to demonstrate who was responsible. I said that there was a balance of opinion but it is when you get under the radar of some of these questions and how they are asked that you determine a sense that people want an improvement on the two-tier system.
I also said at the beginning that we never intended this to be a popular referendum, for the reasons given by my noble friend. That would not show to anyones satisfaction that there would be something deliverable at the end of the day. You tap into emotion and
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We determined that there was a broad cross-section of support in Wiltshire. We found that there was support from many public sector stakeholders, many in the voluntary and community sector, most of the business chambers and, as I said, some of the general public. On that basis, we judged that it was right to proceed because we had a broad cross-section of support. It was interesting that some of that was reflected in the debate in another place in the responses of local Members of Parliament.
Lord Geddes: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. I have just two points. First, on the favourable statistics that she cited, if I can call them thatand she is quite right to cite them in the Governments favourshe mentioned the remark about the Electoral Reform Society not quite having supervision of the two-thirds/one-third result. What happened on the results that were in the Governments favour? Did the Electoral Reform Society have a view on that? Why should one give more credence to one set of figures than another? Secondly, the noble Baroness has now emphasised twice, with great skill, that one-third approved. I am sure that that is right, but two-thirds did not.
Baroness Andrews: The noble Lord is quite right: two-thirds did not. I cannot argue with that. I was making a general point about the Electoral Reform Society. Many districts commissioned their own polls by postal votes, campaign cards and so on, and the Electoral Reform Society was involved in collecting the product, but it was not a supervisory agency in the way that it is when we put postal voting in place for elections. There is not that degree of scrutiny, so you do not always know that you are getting what you seem to be getting. The Ipsos MORI poll was done with orthodox polling: you ask questions and you get a different sort of result.
We have dealt with the situation in relation to the JR. I hope the noble Lord thinks that we dealt with that sufficiently. Finally, as much as I would like to be able to accept his suggestion to withdraw the order, I am afraid I have to resist it.
It is very interesting to read the debate in the other place. Tribute was paid to the leader of the council, Jane Scott, in relation to the capacity of the new council to deliver on its promises as set out in the unitary proposal. Members of Parliament who had been bitterly opposed at various stages of the process came round to say that this proposal is in safe hands and can be made to work with that leader. We recognise that it is important to give that support at this stage.
Lord Geddes: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her remarks. Out of courtesy to herI mean thatI think it only fair to advise her that I will now be taking advice about what steps might be appropriate when approval comes through on Monday.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the County Durham (Structural Change) Order 2008.
The noble Baroness said: We now come to Durham. The order establishes the new unitary County Durham Council. It implements a proposal that Durham County Council submitted to us in response to our invitation to councils issued in October 2006 in parallel with our White Paper. We have judged this proposal against the same five criteria set out in our invitations to councils against which, as I discussed earlier, we assessed all 26 of the proposals that we originally received.
Again, as I informed the House on 5 December, our judgment was that if this proposal for the single unitary Durham Council were implemented, there would be a reasonable likelihood that it would achieve the outcomes specified by all five criteria in the invitation. That is, we believe that the proposal, if implemented, will achieve the outcomes on strategic leadership, neighbourhood flexibility, empowerment, delivery of value for money and efficiency in public services specified in the criteria. Equally, we believe that the change, if made, is affordable and is supported by a broad cross-section of partners and stakeholders. We also received a proposal for a unitary authority from a number of district councils. However, we judged that that proposal was not reasonably likely to meet any of the criteria.
Our judgment on affordability reflects Durham County Councils proposal and, having regard to all the other material and representations we have received, including the advice that our independent financial experts provided on the financial viability of the proposals, the expectation is that the change in Durham will lead to savings of more than £11 million annually once the new unitary council is established. Our judgment on the support criterion reflects that there was support from public agencies including, for example, the PCT, the strategic health authority, the police and fire and rescue. There was also support from the North East Chamber of Commerce and the CBI. All those from the business sector who responded expressed broad support.
There was a mixed response from the public. Responses during the consultation were fairly evenly split between those expressing concerns and those highlighting the benefits. As with Northumberland, we were able to look at the results of the referendum held in 2004, which asked voters explicitly whether they wanted unitary authorities. In Durham, of those who voted, 50.6 per cent supported a single Durham unitary. In short, the evidence we received, in particular that which I have just described, led us to conclude that if the proposal is implemented, the expectation is that the level of support for it will be sufficient for it to be a success.
As with the previous orders, this order is not one size fits all. It is a specific approach that allows local government in Durham to adopt the arrangements best suited to it. We therefore prepared this order following consultation and full discussion with the Durham County Council and all the affected authorities in the area. Like the order establishing Northumberland, this one provides that from, 1 April 2009, there will be a single tier of local government in Durham. The existing district councils will be dissolved, and the county council will be transformed into a new unitary council having both district and county functions. It makes provisions for the key transitional arrangements, in particular providing for the establishment of an implementation executive to be lead by the county council, whose membership will be drawn from the county and all the district councils. The membership and make-up of the implementation executive was discussed in detail with all the affected councils. A consensus was reached, which is reflected in the order. It provides that the county council will have the function of preparing for and facilitating the economic, effective, efficient and timely transfer of the district councils functions, property, rights and liabilities to the new council. The order provides that those transitional functions be discharged by the implementation executive prior to the election of the new County Durham Council in May 2008. It also provides for the creation of a team of officers in each area to provide the necessary support for implementation, again drawn from the county and all the district councils.
Like the Northumberland order, this order provides for elections in 2008, which is outside the normal county council election cycle, so it also makes consequential provision so that the following elections are in 2013. That restores Durham to the normal election cycle for county authorities. We have already discussed, in the context of the Northumberland order, the role of the Boundary Committee and Electoral Commission in determining when the new electoral arrangements should be implemented. The issues are the same for Durham.
In short, this order will establish a new unitary County Durham which, in common with the others we have been discussing today, will have the form of local governance that local people should expect and demand. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the County Durham (Structural Change) Order 2008. 6th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 7th Report from the Merits Committee.(Baroness Andrews.)
Lord Dixon-Smith: I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, will not mind if I pick up the point that she made about the decision of the implementation committee to call itself Durham County Council. As an old county councillor, I am bound to say that that will lead to a great deal of confusion because it will not in fact be a county council; it will be a council for County Durham, which is quite properly made clear in the order. I am deliberately putting on the record that I think that it ought to be told quite clearly that this will lead to
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Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am grateful to the noble Lord for following on on that point. I shall raise the question of elections again. I hope the Committee will forgive me, but because of the length of the last debate and the interruption for the Division, if the Minister replied, I missed it. She has just said again that the order refers to elections taking place this May in order to start work next April with the next set of elections in 2013. That was certainly the understanding of the people in Durham. The county council has written to me to say that the Boundary Committee has raised the possibility of an election in 2010 and it is very concerned that the people of Durham will go to the polls in May and elect someone who will take office in April for 11 months, and that then there will be another set of elections and another a few years after that. It believes that the cost and confusion of having three sets of elections in five years is unacceptable. I would be grateful if the Minister could take that up.
That gives me the opportunity to make the more general point that I am not clear about the extent to which the Boundary Committee takes these wider considerations of governance into account when it makes its decisions and who is the final arbiter in all this. If the committee digs its heels in and insists on this happening, does Durham just have to accept it or would the Government be able to intervene if they felt that that was appropriate?
Baroness Andrews: I am happy to confirm what I said earlier in response to the title of County Durham Council. We shall be writing. The noble Lord has made his views clear on the record, which is helpful.
I partially answered the noble Baroness. We were interrupted by a Division and I did not come back to the point, but I shall state it as clearly as I can because it will be helpful. The position on the elections is that we are providing for elections in Durham and Northumberland in 2008 and in 2013. After the 2008 elections, the Electoral Commission will undertake an electoral review of the wards and the electoral divisions. It is for the commission to decideand it has the last word on these thingswhether the new warding should be implemented in 2013 or whether there is a case to be made for earlier special elections in 2010.
We made it clear from last August, when we put out the consultation document, that stability is important and councils need to bed down. Although it is a longer period than usual, there are real advantages in having this time. We expect the Electoral Commission to consult fully and widely before deciding whether to have an extra 2010 election. The new council will have to make its case to
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Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am grateful to the Minister. It would be ironic if, having promoted this as the way forward to more stable government and more strategic vision, the whole thing were undermined by some overzealous application of the rules with regard to boundaries.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008.
The noble Baroness said: The order establishes the new unitary Cornwall Council. It implements a proposal which Cornwall County Council submitted to us in response to our invitation to councils, issued in October 2006 in parallel with our White Paper. We have judged their proposal against the same five criteria set out in our invitations to councils against which, as I discussed earlier, we assessed all 26 proposals that we originally received.
On 5 December, I informed the House that our judgment was that if the proposal for a single-unitary Cornwall were to be implemented, there was a reasonable likelihood that it would achieve the outcomes specified by all five criteria in the invitation. That is, we believe that the proposal, if implemented, will achieve the outcomes on strategic leadership, neighbourhood flexibility and empowerment and delivery of value for money and efficiency in public services specified in the criteria. Equally, we believe that the change is also affordable and supported by a broad cross-section of partners and stakeholders. We also received a proposal for a unitary authority from a number of district councils. However, we judged that there was not a reasonable likelihood that the proposal, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by each criterion and hence should not proceed to stakeholder consultation.
On the basis of the proposal that we received from Cornwall County Council, having regard to all the other material and representations that we have received, including the advice which our independent financial experts provided on the financial viability of the proposals, the expectation is that the change in Cornwall will lead to savings of more than £15 million annually once the new unitary is established. On the basis of the criteria which we have already discussed, we judge that the proposal meets the affordability criterion. As I have said, it is our judgment that the proposal meets the support criterion, which we have also discussed earlier in this debate.
However, as in other instances, the consultation last spring revealed both support and concern. The district councils had already put in their own bid for a unitary solution. They were clearly opposed to the solution proposed by the county. They commissioned polls which appeared to support their position. However, there was a wide range of public sector support, including from the South West Strategic Health Authority, the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust, the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, and the police authority. There was support, too, from across the business and enterprise communities, including Connexions Cornwall and Devon, the Cornwall Commercial Tourism Federation and some local but important businesses such as St Austell Brewery.
The majority of responses that we received directly from the public were opposed, but they came from only a small proportion of the overall population. A poll of 1,750 people out of a population of 500,000 cannot be seen to represent a majority of people hostile to the proposal. There was an interesting exchange in the other place during the debate on the Cornwall order. It was pointed out that 700 people, which is half that number polled, protested against a proposal for a supermarket in Saltash. The Cornwall districts polls, which again were postal and therefore, as I pointed out earlier, not subject to the same degree of protection and scrutiny as national postal voting, were described in the same debate as deficient ... and partial. The case was made by a Member of Parliament not just about the Cornwall poll, but about the way in which postal polls are conducted generally. The majority of parish and town councils that responded also expressed concerns, but others such as Newquay expressed support. However, overall, we concluded that there was a reasonable likelihood of the proposal achieving the outcomes specified by this criterion.
As with all the orders being discussed today, we have prepared this order following consultation and full discussion with the councils concerned. Like the other orders, it provides that, from 1 April 2009, there will be a single tier of local government for Cornwall. It provides that the existing district councils will be dissolved, and that the county council will be transformed into a new unitary council, having both district and county functions. It makes provisions for the key transitional arrangements. It provides for the establishment of an implementation executive, to be led by the county council and whose membership will be drawn from the county and all the district councils. The membership and make-up of the implementation executive was discussed in detail with all the affected councils and a consensus was reached. It is this consensus that is reflected in the order.
The order provides that the county council will have the function of preparing for and facilitating the economic, effective, efficient and timely transfer of the district councils functions, property, rights and liabilities to the new council. It requires that these transitional functions be discharged by the implementation executive until April 2009, and provides for the creation of a team of officers, again drawn from the county and all the district councils, to provide the necessary support to the implementation executive. In evidence heard in
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Where the order differs from those for Northumberland and Durham is that, in Cornwall, as in Shropshire and Wiltshire, elections to the new unitary council will take place in line with the usual county cycle in May 2009. As we have discussed previously, that will allow the Electoral Commission to undertake an electoral review and put in place electoral arrangements. This order, together with that for Shropshire, which we shall come to finally, also differs from the others in that it provides for the cancellation of district council elections that would otherwise take place in May 2008 in any district council that elects in thirds. In Cornwall that applies to Penwith only.
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