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Councils ready to roar with one voice

Five hundred councils across England and Wales are to unite in a single organisation to try to improve their influence on Government policy-making.

The Local Government Association, which will represent local education authorities, along with other county, metropolitan and district councils, aims to provide a more powerful voice in arguing over money and responsibilities with central government.

The new organisation will replace the existing Association of County Councils, Association of District Councils and Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It will exist in shadow form throughout 1996, working out structures and staffing. A secretary is expected to be appointed later this month. The front-runner for the Pounds 90,000 job is Rodney Brooke, secretary of the AMA.

The association, which has been set up with the explicit purpose of giving local government in England and Wales more powerful representation at national level and in Europe, will be launched officially on April 1, 1997.

A shadow general assembly with 650 delegates has already been held and Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the AMA, has been elected its first chairman. He pledged the association would promote vigorous, effective, responsive, democratic local government and leadership and added: "We do not plead for partnership in the government of our country; we demand it."

The notion of a single organisation to represent local government has been discussed since the summer of 1992. It was originally planned that the LGA would swing into action this April but following the Government review of the county councils its starting date has been postponed for a year. It will be based initially in the London offices of the three existing associations but is likely to move to a single site within five years.

The LGA intends to operate on a cross-party basis, aiming for consensus. However, there will be special-interest groups - for example, a Welsh association and a London committee. County councils have also indicated that they want to set up a group to deal with their specific concerns.

The general assembly, which will determine the budget and overall policy of the association, will meet at least twice a year.

There will be an executive committee with sub-committees and a wide range of standing committees which will develop policy.

Sir Jeremy Beecham said: "This new association is about more than merely defending the present status and function of local authorities . . . it is about more than reclaiming the ground lost in these past 15 years.

"It is about demonstrating that a complex modern society cannot be run effectively, let alone accountably, by ministers, civil servants and those whom they see fit to appoint to quangos and the agencies that are now responsible for more public expenditure than locally elected councillors.

"The new association will not merely react to the proposals of this Government, or the next Government, it will seek to influence the agenda of public debate as well as determine its outcome."

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