The Government plans to hand extra powers to a small number of local authorities, claiming it could save up to £200m per year. Local government minister Phil Woolas unveiled the shortlist of 16 councils.
Some have already appointed the biggest lobbying firms in the business. Bedfordshire County Council has hired Bell Pottinger, Shropshire County Council brought in Weber Shandwick and Northumberland County Council has turned to LLM.
Meanwhile, Exeter City Council has signed local government specialists Connect, and Norwich City Council is using Clapham-based Campaign Communications for both PR and public affairs work.
Cumbria County Council is also understood to have hired an agency in the last few days. A spokesman said: ‘We are considering using a public affairs firm for our unitary bid but nothing has been confirmed.'
The remaining ten councils were yet to employ public affairs firms as PRWeek went to press. They are: Bedford Borough Council; Cornwall County Council; Cheshire County Council; Chester City Council; Durham County Council; Ipswich Borough Council; North Yorkshire County Council; Northumberland Districts; Somerset County Council; and Wiltshire County Council.
While some of the councils said they had no plans to use an agency, others did not rule it out.
A spokeswoman for Ipswich Borough Council said: ‘At present we are not using a public affairs firm, but it is always a possibility.'
A 12 week consultation will now take place, with the final decision to be taken in July. The Government claims creating a new wave of unitary authorities will help to prevent confusion and duplication of services.