Super council 'best deal for taxpayers'

PUBLISHED: 10:15 22 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:52 05 July 2010

MOVES to create a super council for Norfolk and Lowestoft were given a major boost yesterday after independent consultants said it was the only one of the three options on the table where the finances stack up.

MOVES to create a super council for Norfolk and Lowestoft were given a major boost yesterday after independent consultants said it was the only one of the three options on the table where the finances stack up.

The Boundary Committee tasked three consultants to look at the affordability of plans to create either a super council for Norfolk and Lowestoft and two further options one for a council covering Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft and the rest of a Norfolk, and a second “doughnut option” of a greater Norwich council.

Councils have been at odds over the business cases being put forward.

But the consultants' findings concluded that a Norfolk super council both with or without Lowestoft would pass all of the affordability tests on issues ranging from council tax levels, payback periods and reserves.

But neither of the rival two options would be affordable and presented high risks.

Councils now have two weeks to comment on the finance reports, which run into hundreds of pages, while the Boundary Committee will consider them as it makes its final recommendations to the government on December 31.

Affordability is one of five criteria set out by the government that proposed new unitary councils need to meet.

Currently in pole position, as the Boundary Committee's preferred option, the finance news will be seen as a further boost to the super council case.

But in Suffolk the picture is less clear cut as the consultants said that a range of options would all be affordable including a single unitary with or without Lowestoft and two councils for the county, again with or without the town.

The report comes in a week which has seen Norfolk County Council receive plaudits from the Audit Commission for its performance, while City Hall has been left reeling by a draft report by the watchdog which again highlighted dozens of accounting errors.

David White, chief executive of Norfolk County Council, said the analysis confirmed the council's own assessments.

“The work of the independent technical experts demonstrates conclusively that a single unitary council for Norfolk with Lowestoft, or just for Norfolk, readily meets all the affordability tests - so delivering significant savings, paying back its set up costs quickly and delivering good value for money for local taxpayers with low risk,” he said.

“Our early preliminary view was that two councils could possibly meet the criteria,” he added. “However, this detailed financial analysis says that it is unlikely and that either of the two unitary options would be high risk."

But Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said that there were a number of discrepancies in the consultant's findings and said that the risks of a doughnut were presented as greater than they should be because the council's submitted figures had been changed.

“We are pleased to note this is a consultation document and the Boundary Committee has yet to make its own assessment on affordability.

“We look forward to making a detailed response and are absolutely convinced that the case for a greater Norwich and a rural Norfolk is financially viable and that we have a strong case on the other criteria the boundary committee is considering ahead of its final recommendation.”

Barry Coleman, leader of Yarmouth Borough Council, said the council wanted to take a close look at the consultants' report.

“We need to look at the detail and investigate this,” he said.

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