Conservative and UK Independence Party leaders at County Hall both favour single Norfolk unitary
- Credit: Submitted
Norfolk's county council Conservative leader has said he favours a single county unitary authority after the UK Independence Party announced today it would push for the country's 420 council posts and eight separate bodies to be replaced by 100 councillors in one authority.
Cliff Jordan, the leader at County Hall, said one unitary authority for Norfolk would be the 'cheapest and best option' and he would like people to have a say on the plan through a referendum.
But he said the move would 'take time' and there should be no 'knee jerk' reaction after the failed Norfolk and Suffolk devolution proposal.
It comes after UK Independence Party group leader Toby Coke issued a statement today calling for Norfolk to follow other Conservative-controlled councils in pushing for a local government shake-up.
He has proposed that Norfolk's seven district council, and Norfolk County Council, should be replaced by one council for Norfolk.
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Mr Coke said: 'Huge financial savings can be made. Instead of eight chief executives, Norfolk will have one. Instead of 420 paid councillors, about 100 would suffice. The financial savings will be immense and decision making will be improved,' he added.
'Now that devolution has failed it is the only way forward,' he added.
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His motion requesting that Norfolk County Council considers looking at a unitary solution was defeated last month, when councillors, including Mr Jordan, claimed it was 'premature'.
But Mr Coke said: 'If not now, when? We can wait no longer in order to save Norfolk public services.'
But Mr Jordan said it was not as simple as Mr Coke had tried to make out. 'Unitary, obviously in my opinion, is what will happen long-term. But it is how it is done.' He said they needed to take people with them.
'I have been through three of these, and each time the public has gone for the status quo. Frankly the status quo is not an option.'
'My view personally is one [unitary] for Norfolk. It is the cheapest and best, and everyone identifies with Norfolk.'
But he said they would have to work out how they delivered services underneath the unitary before they went to a poll in a referendum.
Mr Jordan said he had not had any discussions with the secretary of state for local government or the Department for Communities and Local Government about unitary as he was waiting to see how the new cabinet minister Sajid Javid would set things up.
He added that they did not want to make the same mistake as they had with the failed devolution plan where they had 'gone off like a scolded cat'.
When pushed on a timeline, Mr Jordan said he thought unitary should be tackled in the 'next two or three year'.
But Labour leader at Norwich City Council Alan Waters said the recent failed devolution process had been 'bruising' and had taken a lot of time. He said it was a time to reflect much more carefully on what was needed.
He said they should be focusing on strengthening the economy and focusing on jobs, employment and skills and tackling low pay - not just in Norwich but across the area. But John Fuller, the Conservative leader of South Norfolk council said they should be reviewing how local services are delivered, include revisiting the number of councils in Norfolk.
But he said cost alone should not be the sole deciding factor in working out what was best for local residents and business.
'Norfolk is over 80 miles wide, takes an hour and a half to drive across and will soon have over a million residents. Creating a single one-size-fits-all council for Norfolk would be wrong when some services, especially ones like housing and homelessness which are most highly valued by residents are best tailored at a more local level.'
'In others, perhaps fire and rescue or strategic transport, counties themselves might now not be big enough as people commute between regional centres.'
'We need a more thoughtful evidence-led approach to optimising local Governance rather than a knee jerk assumption that an all purpose county unitary council would best serve our current and future requirements at a time when people are crying out for local solutions to local problems.'
Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman said: 'I strongly welcome todays announcement that the leaders at County Hall agree with my call that we need a simpler, more responsive and less bureaucratic model of local government in Norfolk. There are several options we should explore including an East and a (Royal) West Norfolk Council. But we owe it to our council tax payers, and those who depend on public services, to trim backoffice bureaucracy to focus funding on the frontline.'