Ministers accused over council shake-up
Ministers were yesterday accused of presiding over a shambles after blowing wide open an overhaul of councils in Norfolk and Suffolk.In a surprise move, local government minister John Healey opened the door for a possible merger of councils in Yarmouth and Waveney while kicking into touch go-it-alone plans for Ipswich on its existing boundaries because the payback costs could not be met in the five-year timetable.
Ministers were yesterday accused of presiding over a shambles after blowing wide open an overhaul of councils in Norfolk and Suffolk.
In a surprise move, local government minister John Healey opened the door for a possible merger of councils in Yarmouth and Waveney while kicking into touch go-it-alone plans for Ipswich on its existing boundaries because the payback costs could not be met in the five-year timetable.
But the decision contains a sting in the tail for Norfolk after ministers said that the Boundary Committee, currently looking at council structures in the county, will also review arrangements in Suffolk and be able to look at crossing existing county boundaries when looking at “unitary options”.
The move is the biggest hint yet that the future council map of Norfolk could see a greater Norwich council, a new “Yartoft” council including Yarmouth and Waveney, and a rural rest of Norfolk option.
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And it comes days after councils submitted plans for new unitary authorities in Norfolk, having been told by the Boundary Committee that cross-border tie-ups were not an option.
In a further twist, the Boundary Committee admitted it had been in the dark about yesterday's announcement, which is likely to call into question the timetable for any fresh changes.
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Ministers yesterday applied the brakes to Ipswich and Exeter after originally giving them the green light in July.
In a written statement, Mr Healey said it was “open to the Boundary Committee, if it sees fit, to make alternative proposals that cross existing boundaries… which may cross the existing Norfolk/Suffolk county border.”
Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said the process was a “complete shambles” and would see the death of Norfolk if allowed to continue.
“If you take out greater Norwich and Yarmouth, you are not going to be left with much and you effectively destroy Norfolk as an administrative unit,” he said.
“People in Norfolk won't like that.”
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, a supporter of the unitary concept, said he had lost faith in the government's handling of the process.
“They can't expect to mess around with Norfolk and expect local government to play a constructive part in a process which is so shambolic,” he said. “I have completely lost confidence in this system by the way the government is moving the goalposts in this way - it's ludicrous.”
Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “The government's whole process on these matters is completely shambolic - its lack of clarity and constant dithering is costing local councils time and money that could be much better spent on local services.
“As to where this leaves Norfolk and Norwich residents, who knows? Second-guessing government tactics in the absence of any rulebook is like trying to build a jigsaw puzzle from a box that has no picture on the front and where half the pieces are missing.”
Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, welcomed the Ipswich decision, but said he was concerned about the impact of the review on the rest of the county.
“I am frustrated,” he said.
“We came up with our pathfinder bid, which we have been working on for two years, and they have blown it out of the water.”
But Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, who with Yarmouth's Tony Wright has lobbied hard to get the cross-border option on the table, said he was delighted at the announcement.
“We know that Waveney District Council is in a mess and we are marginalised in a remote Suffolk County Council which has let us down on things like failing to put a third crossing for Lowestoft in its transport plan and closing our middle schools,” he said. “We should not carry on like this.
“A Waveney and Yarmouth link-up would be able to focus on our needs and priorities.”
A spokesman for the Boundary Committee said: “This is something that's only just come out and wasn't something that was expected. We need to consider it.”