Councils accused of wasting cash

THREE Suffolk councils have been accused of 'wasting' nearly �20,000 of taxpayers' cash on a survey to ask people what they thought about local government.

THREE Suffolk councils have been accused of 'wasting' nearly �20,000 of taxpayers' cash on a survey to ask people what they thought about local government.

The London-based Opinion Research Business was brought in by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Forest Heath District Council and Waveney District Council after the Boundary Committee for England proposed a two unitary authority council system for Suffolk - one for Ipswich and Felixstowe, a second for the rest of the county.

The survey cost �19,815 - which came from hundreds of thousands of pounds set aside by the three councils to challenge the committee's findings.

St Edmundsbury, Forest Heath and Waveney all vigorously oppose the idea. They want separate unitary authorities for the east and west of Suffolk and in a bid to canvas public opinion on the matter they hired ORB.

But the move has been criticised as a 'waste' of money by some because only 800 people were asked and most of those knew nothing about the review.

Derrick Haley, Thurston Parish Council member, said: 'I sense the three councils are more interested in their own continuation than in Suffolk-wide issues.

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'It was a telephone survey of just 800 people. More than half were totally unaware of the Local Government Review, and only one in 10 felt they knew at least a fair amount about it.

'It is a shame that tax payers' money was wasted on it.'

Mark Ereira-Guyer, an independent LLINK member at St Edmundsbury, said he supported the west/east split but felt the three councils should stop spending money fighting the Boundary Committee's recommendations.

'Just think what else this money could be spent on. It could certainly pay for a lot of different things. We have been saying enough is enough. Let's not spend any more money on this.

But Allan Hyde, director of ORB, defended his research.

'The sample size of 800 is robust. As a point of comparison, national political opinion polls are routinely based on effective sample sizes below that of our survey,' he said. 'This survey was intentionally designed to be one of 'ordinary' people, not one of experts in local government.

'Our questions gathered the instinctive opinions of those who will be directly affected by any change to the structure of local government in Suffolk.'

And the leaders of St Edmundsbury, Forest Heath and Waveney - John Griffiths, Geoffrey Jaggard and Mark Bee - have previously relied on the ORB's findings to claim the Boundary Committee's process was 'flawed'.

A spokesman for the Boundary Committee said: 'We are confident that the processes followed in Suffolk are appropriate and that we put forward patterns of unitary local government which we thought would meet the criteria set by Government.

'We have said right from the beginning is well evidenced views written by anyone will count more than a 'yes or no' opinion poll.'