Anger at cost of local government review

TAXPAYERS are picking up a bill of �5,000 a week to cover the cost of a review into reorganising local government in Suffolk.

Graham Dines

TAXPAYERS are picking up a bill of �5,000 a week to cover the cost of a review into reorganising local government in Suffolk, it has emerged.

The Boundary Committee review - which is looking at creating a new system of councils in the county - has cost �218,757 since March last year, according to figures given to the House of Commons.

That figure - which includes nearly �28,000 on consultation and �65,000 for financial experts - will rise when the committee presents its final proposals to the Government next month.

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One Suffolk MP called the review “a completely absurd exercise” and urged the Government to leave the current system as it is.

And the Tax Payers' Alliance said the cost would be hard to bear - especially given the current economic climate.

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Last year, ministers pulled the plug on previously approved proposals to make Ipswich a stand alone unitary council, which would have left the rest of Suffolk administered by the county council and six district authorities.

In its place, the Government ordered the Boundary Committee to draw up plans to introduce unitary councils in Suffolk, Norfolk and Devon.

The Committee has proposed that Suffolk be split in three - a council responsible for Ipswich and Felixstowe, Lowestoft to join a super Norfolk unitary, and the rest of Suffolk forming a rural unitary likely to be based at Bury St Edmunds.

In answer to a question from West Suffolk Conservative MP Richard Spring, Peter Viggers - who speaks in the Commons for the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission - said the review in Suffolk had cost �218,757 since March last year.

Salaries account for �109,948, consultants fees �27,483, the bill for financial consultants �65,791, printing �11,794, mapping �2,248, couriers �363, and staff training �1,130.

Mr Spring said: “This is a completely absurd exercise. Previous local government reorganisations have seen no improvement or money saving for council tax payers. The Government should leave well alone.

“The Conservatives have said we do not favour any change. A huge change in local government should not be contemplated with 17 months to go before a General Election, after which the plans might be abandoned.”

Mark Wallace, campaign director of the Tax Payers' Alliance, said: “This is a large bill for tax payers to bear - particularly when we are all suffering from a recession.

“We are always told that the Government and councils pay such high salaries because they have excellent staff. If this is the case then why is there a need to bring in such costly consultants?”

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears is waiting for the Boundary Committee's final report, due to be published by February 13. She will have to decide whether to give the go-ahead in time for June's county council elections or whether to delay polling to allow the Electoral Commission to draw up new ward boundaries.

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