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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 18:13 GMT
Shires 'to be abolished'
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Regional assemblies could end English councils
England's historic shire counties are under threat from plans for regional government, a senior Conservative has claimed.

Malcolm Moss, Shadow Minister for Local Government and the Regions, said: "The cat is out of the bag.

"Labour's plans for regional assemblies will mean the abolition of England's historic shire counties.

The warning came after Housing and Planning Minister Lord Falconer of Thoroton told the House of Lords that regional assemblies could mean the end of county and district councils.

Just because the county council has been abolished, the county has not

Keith Locke, West Berkshire Council leader

Lord Falconer said: "In some cases it is not right that there should be two-tier authorities, and that is something that needs to be looked at, particularly in the context of where there is a regional assembly.

"If you have a regional assembly and two other tiers, that looks too many.

"As to which is the right one to remove, I don't think it would be for me to say at this stage."

Labour's manifesto had indicated that regional assemblies would be considered only for regions where the two-tier system had already been largely replaced by all-purpose unitary authorities.

Taxpayers' money is being wasted on bureaucracy and red tape

Malcolm Moss, Shadow Minister for Local Government and the Regions

The government is preparing a consultation paper for next year on the steps towards holding referendums in regions where there is apparent demand for an elected assembly.

But Mr Moss said: "Rather than devolving responsibilities to local communities, Labour are going to transfer power to a new tier of regional politicians.

"The government must now tell the public how much such restructuring will cost - it could be as much as 2 billion.

"As ever, taxpayers' money is being wasted on bureaucracy and red tape, rather than improving Britain's crumbling public services."

Strong identities

Although some county councils have already been abolished, the counties themselves retain strong identities.

One of England's smallest counties is Berkshire.

Keith Locke, the leader of West Berkshire Council, which became a unitary authority in 1998, told BBC News Online: "There is still very much an identity within the county, in the health service and in the fire service, and in the rugby and cricket team.

"Just because the county council has been abolished, the county has not, and a lot of cross-Berkshire activities continue.

"If they do introduce regional government... you cannot end up with four tiers of local government," he added.

See also:

12 Apr 00 | UK Politics
New voice for English regions
08 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Assemblies campaign stepped up
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