County attacks city bid for 'home rule'

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Norwich's bid for home rule would tear the heart out of Norfolk, cost £14m and hit the delivery of services, it was claimed. Shaun Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said City Hall's bid for a larger one-size-fits-all authority would divert much-needed resources and risk repeating the mistakes and inefficiencies made during the overhaul of the county's health system and the creation of several small primary care trusts.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Norwich's bid for home rule would tear the heart out of Norfolk, cost £14m and hit the delivery of services, it was claimed yesterday.

Shaun Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said City Hall's bid for a larger one-size-fits-all authority would divert much-needed resources and risk repeating the mistakes and inefficiencies made during the overhaul of the county's health system and the creation of several small primary care trusts.

His comments came a week before ministers receive the city's final bid and ahead of two special meetings next week on the unitary issue, one at county hall on Monday, and a second at City Hall the following day.

The city council is putting the finishing touches to two proposals - one for a new council on its existing boundaries, and a second controversial proposal which would take in parts of South Norfolk and Broadland, including Costessey, Hellesdon, Sprowston, Easton and Drayton, Rackheath and Taverham.

It would also mean the rest of Broadland merging with North Norfolk District Council and some eastern divisions, such as Acle, joining Yarmouth.

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A report by David White, chief executive of the county council, warned that a new council would impact residents across the county. There would be significant disruption as lawyers unpicked long-term contracts and leases, and a risk that duplicating services would see some vulnerable people falling through the gaps.

Concerns included:

extra costs of £6.5m for non-Norwich residents;

one-off transition costs of £14m - £2m higher than first thought;

footing the bill for a new £1.9m joint fire authority - with non city dwellers paying a further £8.4m a year.

Mr Murphy said that more could be done by building on existing partnerships without a costly and disruptive change and there was little widespread support for change.

"Norwich is an inherent part of Norfolk and this would tear the heart out of the city," he said. "With so many people moving between the city and the county, you can't see Norwich as an island."

But Steve Morphew, leader of the city council, said he was disappointed at the county's negative stance ahead of seeing the final bid.

City Hall has also been irritated at the time taken by the county council to produce finance and service data to help state the case - with detailed figures only arriving shortly before Christmas.

"We are looking to the future and where the city is going to be in 15 years' time; they are looking very negatively and hanging on to the past," said Mr Morphew. "I'm surprised they haven't come up with anything more positive, and the things they are suggesting could have been done in the past."