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Committee suggests single authority

PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:32 06 July 2010

TOWN halls in Suffolk should be scrapped in favour of a single super council for the county as part of the biggest shake up for local government in a generation.

TOWN halls in Suffolk should be scrapped in favour of a single super council for the county as part of the biggest shake up for local government in a generation.

The independent Boundary Committee finally presented its verdict on the best form of local government for Suffolk - ruling that a single authority was the best option because it could deliver cheaper services for all while still giving the county enough clout to make its voice heard at a regional and national level.

But it also left open the possibility of a two-council option based on Ipswich and Felixstowe, and the rest of Suffolk.

Suffolk county council leader Jeremy Pembroke said: “Whatever the shape of local government in Suffolk, our focus is to work together with the public and voluntary sector organisations across the county.”

While the leaders of four district councils campaigning for a rival option of three unitaries, based on Ipswich, and East and West Suffolk attacked the plans.

In a joint statement a spokesman for the councils, Waveney, Suffolk Coastal, Forest Heath, and St Edmundsbury, said they were still considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court against process.

“This is another fine mess from the Boundary Committee who appear hell-bent on a course of action opposed by the majority of Suffolk residents and the majority of the councils who serve them,” he said. "Opinion polls clearly revealed that a three-unitary pattern in Suffolk would be more popular than the patterns proposed by a Boundary Committee who refused to even enter into a dialogue with the councils in Suffolk who supported the three-unitary option.

"We will now go straight to the Secretary of State and ask him to throw out these unloved and unwanted proposals for huge, unwieldy and distant councils. Instead, he owes it to the county to give timely consideration to an East/West/Ipswich pattern.

In Norfolk the Boundary Committee also said it supported a single council option, but there appears to be little political support for that option.

While the announcement is also a blow to supporters of a rival 'doughnut' bid for a greater Norwich council and a rest of rural Norfolk option which supporters hoped would secure the city its home rule dream after the committee ruled the case was not affordable and did not enjoy wide support.

County Council leader Daniel Cox said he was pleased that the committee had recognised the authority's argument that Norwich and Norfolk should not be separated, but he said the Tory-run authority would still lobby to keep the status quo.

“We won't be campaigning for the single unitary,” he said. “In reality the county council has now got a position of strongly supporting the status quo. We never sought the structural review and given that we are six months away from a general election and a Conservative commitment to unwind what is put in place, it is all rather academic.”

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew said the process was a complete shambles and the authority would continue to make the case that a 'doughnut option' was the best model for both rural and urban areas.

Norwich South MP Charles Clarke said the Boundary's committee's report was “appallingly incompetent” and he would be lobbying for a two council option.

While South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller suggested the decision was part of a “scorched earth” policy to get rid of as many Conservative activists as possible.

But committee chairman Max Caller said the single unitary proposal based on the extensive evidence he had seen had the capacity to deliver all the government's aims of affordability, deliver value for money and equity in public services, provide strong effective, and accountable strategic leadership and deliver genuine opportunities for neighbourhood empowerment.

“We heard strong views from those who want to keep the current system, and we make no criticism of the people working hard to deliver services that people rely on. It's also clear that there is no decisive consensus either way,” Mr Caller said “But in deciding our advice we were ultimately persuaded by the broad cross section of people and groups who told us that there were patterns of unitary local government that are able to deliver more affordable services with clear strategic leadership and can empower local towns and villages to get more out of the services they use.”

All sides now have until January 19 to make their views known to communities secretary John Denham - but the big question now is whether he has the political stomach to back the Boundary Committee, or will pursue the other option of doing nothing or going back or even revive Norwich's original unitary bid based on its existing boundaries, which the committee has advised him against.


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