Thursday, February 11, 2010
EXCLUSIVE: Denham Indemnifies His Perm Sec Against Legal Action Over Council Gerrymandering Decision
Yesterday, the Government announced a volte face and abandoned plans for a Norfolk-wide unitary authority and instead indulged in a bit of pro Labour gerrymandering by creating a unitary authority for Norwich. Very few people support such a proposal (apart from Norwich Labour Party) and opposition parties are furious. It has to be said that there were very few supporters for the Norfolk wide unitary authority either. Most people want the status quo.
However, I can reveal that John Denham, the Local Government Secretary, has ignored warnings from his senior civil servants, who believe the proposal is "unaffordable" and doesn't meet the Government's own criteria. Indeed, the Permanent Secretary at the DCLG, Peter Housden, has forced Denham to sign a letter absolving the civil servants from any legal action. Incredibly, Denham has done just that. Norfolk County Council is ready to make a High Court challenge and the Conservatives have already committed to reversing this decision if they win the next election.
I am told it is unprecedented for a Permanent Secretary to send such a letter to a Secretary of State.
Amazingly, Denham concedes the plan is unaffordable, yet decides to carry on anyway. It's paying-off Labour's political debts with taxpayers' money. When local voters realise that they've been cheated of their chance to give their verdict on the shambolic way in which Labour has run their City Council in Norwich, there'll be hell to pay. One local politician described it as "the biggest gerrymander since rotten boroughs were abolished in 1832."
The only bright point is that this still has to wind its way through Parliament and that can't start yet because MPs have just gone on a fortnight's break.
What an absolutely unnecessary dog's breakfast. And yet more evidence of Labour's scorched earth policy. They didn't have to do this, and could easily have left it until after the election. It's clear to any half awake observer that this has nothing to do with improving the structure of local government. It's corrupt. But why should we be surprised?