Headlines: February 7th, 2008

The future shape of local government in and around Exeter, Ipswich and Norwich has been referred to the Boundary Committee. It has been asked to advise on possible arrangements in the three areas after the Government’s previous ruling that proposals for unitary councils put forward for the three cities in January last year had not met all its strict criteria.

In turning down the applications for unitary status, the Local Government Minister, John Healey, said he believed there was still a case for unitary arrangements covering the borough or city and potentially wider areas of their respective counties. Now the Committee is being asked to examine possible alternatives that could deliver quality public services, value for money, stronger leadership and neighbourhood engagement and that can show a broad cross section of support. It has been asked to report back by the end of this year.

It has also been asked to consider whether there are workable unitary proposals that cross the existing Suffolk-Norfolk border including Waveney and Great Yarmouth councils that would, again, deliver benefits for local people. In the case of Exeter, because there are established unitary councils in Plymouth and Torbay, the Committee has not been asked for ideas for major change for the existing unitary areas. Guidance given to the Boundary Committee says that it is up to it to create any alternative unitary proposals through mature discussions with councils and others bodies and that in doing so it must not incur any significant costs for councils.

Local Government Minister John Healey said having invited councils to come forward with their own proposals he believed there was a case for unitary authorities for Norwich, Ipswich, Exeter and their surrounding areas. “Re-structuring is set to deliver over 90 million pounds savings a year in the six counties already going ahead next year. These can be used directly to improve front line services or to reduce council tax bills. It’s right that we look at whether these benefits can also be realised around Norwich, Ipswich and Exeter, but only if the proposals meet our five tough tests,” he said.