Council: Review of 2010

The year in local government started with the threat of a countywide unitary merger which nobody appeared to want, and ended with councils looking increasingly at their own DIY team-ups or sharing of services in the wake of the government's squeeze on public spending.

After weeks of delay the then Labour government surprised everybody in the new year by ignoring the advice of its own appointed Boundary Committee which had concluded a long drawn out review of local government in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Devon by recommending single county unitary authorities for each as its preferred option, though in Suffolk equal weight was given to a two council alternative.

Communities secretary John Denham's decision to ignore the advice and opt instead for a unitary Norwich, and Exeter based on their existing boundaries sparked allegations of political gerrymandering.

The decision also triggered a legal challenge by Norfolk and Devon County Councils, and a political pledge from the Conservatives, since upheld, that they would scrap the legislation if they won the general election.

But actually it was the courts which finally killed Norwich's unitary dream, this time around, after a high court judge ruled that the decision was unlawful, not because of concerns about the process, or ignoring the Boundary Committee's advice, but simply because the government had not allowed for enough time for all parties to consider the Norwich unitary decision.


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The ruling meant that fresh elections needed to be held in Norwich after the May poll had been postponed. And with all parties exhausted by the general election, and a September poll nobody really wanted, the Labour Party's minority administration boosted its numbers by one while also bringing in some fresh talent to the ranks.

But barely a week after victory City Hall was caught up in a fresh storm after contractors Connaught, brought in as part of a �17m deal to run services for street cleaning to council house repairs, went into administration.

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Nearly 500 jobs were at risk, but with 300 successfully transferred to different parts of the businesses, that left around 200 staff facing redundancy as the council's hoping of finding another firm to step straight in failed to materialise, and the contract had to be relet.

By this time new communities secretary Eric Pickles was also well into his stride causing a stir among council officers with a mix of straight taking, particularly about local government excess among the ranks of chief executives and senior officers, and pledge to sweep away a host of quangos.

His proposal to shake-up the planning system also appeared to throw into further chaos proposals for thousands of new homes particularly in the greater Norwich area, where inspectors were also casting an eye over the so-called joint core strategy.

Quangos such as Go-East, the East of England Development Agency, and the Audit Commission were out, and in their place was the promise of a localism bill giving councils a freer hand to provide services.

New local enterprise partnerships, a mix of businesses, and councils were also created, which ultimately saw a tie-up between Norfolk and Suffolk given the green light at the second time of asking after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing among supporters of different proposals.

At a political level the year also saw the departure of Daniel Cox as leader of Norfolk County Council, to carry out voluntary work in India. City council leader Steve Morphew also announced he was standing down at next May's local election, and Great Yarmouth Borough Council leader Barry Coleman is also quitting the council leadership to become the next town mayor.

But the latter half of the year has been dominated by the fallout from the government's plans to slash public spending. Councils are facing 28pc cuts over the next four years. At a district level the prospect has hastened backroom tie-ups.

Waveney and Suffolk Coastal currently share a chief executive, while South Norfolk and Great Yarmouth, are looking to link up after the former pulled out of a merger with neighbouring Breckland, which opted to hook up with South Holland council instead.

At Norfolk County Council the authority, which had already unveiled controversial plans to switch off street lights and close day centres including the Essex Rooms and Silver Rooms in Norwich, is now looking at a �155m shortfall.

New leader Derrick Murphy and his cabinet team have thrown everything into the mix as part of a Big Conversation, which could see the council shed 3,000 posts, and stop directly providing a host of services from day care to verge cutting.

The consultation closes shortly and the decisions which follow look likely to dominate the course of much of the coming year too.

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