Magazine article Public Finance

Chester Districts' Unitary Bid 'Has Financial Flaws'

Magazine article Public Finance

Chester Districts' Unitary Bid 'Has Financial Flaws'

Article excerpt

Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears is under pressure to reject a proposed overhaul of council services in the Northwest, after auditors representing one of the nine bids for unitary status expressed serious financial concerns.

Blears will shortly be approached by representatives from Cheshire County Council, who are demanding that she reverses her decision to support splitting the county into two unitary authorities.

The Department for Communities and Local Government published Blears' preferred list of nine new unitary authorities in July, but asked the four district-based bids - those including the cities of Bedford, Chester, Exeter and Ipswich - to undertake further financial work and report back this week.

Officials asked the districts backing Chester City Council's bid - dubbed 'People and Places' - to provide extra details on specific arrangements for splitting Cheshire into two unitaries: on accommodation, ICT, the closure of existing districts, communications, future elections and contract negotiations.

Chester published detailed plans for east and west Cheshire unitaries on October 1. But in an accompanying report, People and Places' own auditors, Deloitte, defined 18 out of 23 key financial assessments as carrying risks deemed above 'normal'.

Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of Cheshire CC, told Public Finance: 'The districts' own auditors have exposed serious areas of concern. There are half a dozen points that make us think that the people that currently receive our services are not safe. …

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