A COUNCIL today defended the way it is carrying out a public consultation after an MP accused it of trying to influence the result of a poll.

Blackburn with Darwen Council went on the defence after Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans criticised it for releasing early survey results.

The authority is conducting a widespread consultation exercise to ask local people for their views on which of three possible options for political decision making structures is should adopt.

Two earlier opinion polls suggest overwhelming support for a council leader with a cabinet to represent them, govern the borough and make decisions about their local services.

But today the Tory MP likened the council's decision to make the results public to the Government releasing partial results at noon on the day of a General Election.

Mr Evans said: "I think it is very absurd to release partial results. If the Government was to release partial results at noon on Thursday election day it would alter the way people voted.

"They should wait until they have all the results of the public consultations. It appears that they are trying to influence the result of the exercise."

In the public consultation people are asked which of three options, laid down by the Local Government Act 2000, they would prefer.

These are to have a mayor with a cabinet, a leader with a cabinet, or a council manager with a cabinet.

The results of the first two surveys -- a Blackburn with Darwen Citizens Panel and a household survey conducted by an independent research company, showed overwhelming support for a council leader with a cabinet.

More than 60 per cent of Citizen's Panel members who responded supported the leader with a cabinet option, while almost 50 per cent of households who replied to the research company's survey preferred that option.

A spokesman for Blackburn with Darwen Council said: "We don't think we are influencing people. It is already in the public domain that a leader with a cabinet is the council's preferred option.

"By releasing the results of the survey we are keeping people informed. If we didn't release the survey findings we could be accused of hiding something. We have made it clear that the consultation period is far from over."

Home Secretary and Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: "It sounds like consultation to me and the local authority keeping the public informed of what's going on."

Information leaflets with another opinion survey are being distributed throughout the borough.

Council leader Coun Malcolm Doherty said: "It is important that as many people as possible take part in the process so that an informed decision can be taken."