MP highlights Government mixed messages

EAST Devon MP Hugo Swire has branded the process that could see Devon run by a super council a fiasco - and accused ministers and civil servants of contradictory messages.

EAST Devon MP Hugo Swire has branded the process that could see Devon run by a 'super council' a 'fiasco' - and accused ministers and civil servants of contradictory messages.

Boundary Committee proposals could see the dissolution of all Devon's district councils leaving the county to be run a single authority, and one each for Plymouth and Torbay.

During Business Questions in the House of Commons he demanded that Communities Secretary Hazel Blears make an urgent statement.

He said councils, consulted about the proposals last year and Members of Parliament were told that the 'status quo' of keeping the counties eight district councils, including Exeter City Council was not even being considered.

But in the official report Westminster Hall, dated February 24 2009 the Minister for Local Government John Healey contradicted this and said: "No change has always been an option."

The commission's refusal to consider a 'two-tier' option (the current local Government set up of a county and district councils) was part of East Devon District Council's recent High Court Challenge.

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Mr Swire said in the Commons: "That is certainly not what the boundary committee told Members of Parliament when we were briefed at the beginning of the process.

"Therefore, please will the Leader of the House insist that the Secretary of State makes an urgent statement to the House at the earliest opportunity to clarify a process that is rapidly becoming a fiasco?"

Replying, the Leader of the House Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman MP said she would "draw the matter to the attention of my Ministerial Colleague" (Hazel Blears).

Following the exchange Hugo Swire said, "We were clearly told at the outset of this process that the status quo, in other words keeping Devon County Council, Exeter City Council and the District Councils was not an option.

"Quite clearly this is not the case as Mr. Justice Cranston and the Minister for Local Government have both pointed out.

"I have asked repeatedly to take a delegation of Conservative Devon MPs to see the Secretary of State but she has to date refused."

He added, "Local elections are now going ahead in June with the Secretary of State not due to announce her decision until July and any subsequent changes to come into effect in April 2010 possibly days before a General Election.

"The whole thing is a mess and quite frankly the sooner the Government drops these plans the better.

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