Norwich self-rule dream to be dismantled

Mary HamiltonCity leaders yesterday laid Norwich's dream of home rule to rest, saying that despite a last-minute stay of execution they would continue to take steps to stop the transformation.Mary Hamilton

City leaders yesterday laid Norwich's dream of home rule to rest, saying that despite a last-minute stay of execution they would continue to take steps to stop the transformation.

On Tuesday the new government's draft bill to scrap the creation of unitary councils in Norwich and Execter was ambushed by Labour peers, forcing at least a two-week delay.

But at a meeting of the executive last night Norwich council bosses said the new coalition was determined to kill off the unitary council, and that the city would continue to wind down its work towards the change.

Director of transformation Paul Spencer said: 'In the light of recent developments we have severely cut back on all implementation work.

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'We are required to keep the implementation executive under the current laws but we are looking very much at toning down its frequency of meetings and so on.

'There are some things we have to keep in place but we have to minimise them as much as possible.

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'The draft Local Government Bill is on its journey through Parliament and of course we are aware that the Lords have decided the bill should be examined more closely.

'It does mean there will be a short delay, but we are still in a situation where the government has showed its determination to stop the merge.

'For that reason we have toned down expenditure as much as we can apart from the minimal things we need to do to meet our statutory duty.'

Preparation work that has already stopped includes:

• No new financial commitments on implementation work

• Freezing recruitment of the new chief executive who would have led the new council along with strategic directors

• Stopping secondments from Norfolk County Council into the joint implementation team

• Axing proposed visits to existing unitary councils

• An end to senior management liaison meetings with the county council.

The resources are now being diverted back to the council's efficiency and transformation programme, which saved �6m before beginning work towards the merge.

After the meeting Mr Spencer said the programme would look to identify savings as soon as possible in the light of probable spending cuts by the new coalition government.

'We know there will be cuts but we do not yet know by how much or when we will find out,' he said. 'We have been warned the government could cut between 10pc and 30pc of local authority funding across the country over the next two years.

'We are using the existing budget and existing resources from the unitary bid to try to find savings as early as we can, so that we are well prepared to weather the storm.'

Councillors at the meeting also discussed the impact of public spending cuts on private sector employers, including contractors such as Connaught, and suggested working with employers to assess the impact on individuals and on potentially vulnerable groups of people.

The executive also approved the council's interim gender equality scheme.

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