Last month we asked ConservativeHome readers to submit questions for Eric Pickles, the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government. Here is the first installment of his answers, covering a number of issues raised about local government reorganisation.
Question from jennywren: The way that we are going by the time the Conservatives get into power in 2010 (probably) Local Government is going to be in the most terrible mess, with a mixture of unitary and two tier authorities, plus two tier councils that are in the throes of transferring into unitaries. How will you cope with this lack of uniformity when it comes to policy-making?
Eric Pickles: Reorganisation by structure is rather old-fashioned, we will change local government from within by way of function and powers. We will encourage local authorities to share power and finance on common problems.
Question from Jonathan Holborow: Would it be unwise to amalgamate further district councils into unitary authorities during a first Conservative term in office, given the economic situation and a probable lack of backing within the Shadow Cabinet?
Eric Pickles: Yes.
Question from Robert Reynolds: Will you guarantee that under a Conservative government, areas like Merseyside will not be forced to become "city regions" and that the people of such areas would be given a referendum on the issue if it came up?
Eric Pickles: Yes.
Question from Mr R G Rose: Will a new Conservative government make some attempt to return Cheshire and other abolished counties, to true local government and stop this unwanted move to regionalisation?
Eric Pickles: Too late for Cheshire, but we would look at how far other proposals had progressed before making a final decision.
Question from Lindsay Jenkins: Will a Conservative government return amalgamated unitary authorities to the previous district council set-up if local people wish to see that?
Eric Pickles: A Conservative government will want to bring radical change to local authority powers and function so an expensive reorganisation will not be a priority.
Overview from Eric Pickles: Local government reorganisation has been a vanity project by Ministers, more concerned about reducing the number of Conservative Councillors than delivering better quality services for taxpayers. If I am lucky enough to become Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government I intend to keep a loaded pearl-handled revolver in my drawer, and the first civil servant who suggests local government reorganisation will be shot. I am not at all interested in the structure of local government. I am extremely determined that we make the functions of local government work as efficiently and effectively as possible to ensure we offer the best possible services and the lowest council tax possible. No city or county will forced to change their status, but we will expect councils to share back office functions to cooperate and work together, and focus on delivery not navel gazing.