Council bids to go it alone

A SUFFOLK council next week launches its bid to break away from county hall and run all its own services.Ipswich councillors are being asked to approve the borough's business case to be made an all-purpose unitary authority, a plan which has been given the backing of the council's three main political groups.

By Graham Dines

A SUFFOLK council next week launches its bid to break away from county hall and run all its own services.

Ipswich councillors are being asked to approve the borough's business case to be made an all-purpose unitary authority, a plan which has been given the backing of the council's three main political groups.

However, the news was greeted with surprise by the county council, whose leader Jeremy Pembroke said any move should have awaited the Government's White Paper on local government reform, which is due to be published in June.


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Ipswich lost its county borough status 32 years in the last major reorganisation of local government, with responsibility for education, social care, libraries, and transport policy passing to the county council.

Now Ipswich wants to go it alone, and is banking on support from the Government, which is keen to break up England's shire counties into large unitary authorities with many smaller districts merging to become single tier councils.

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One of the key elements in its bid is to improve the quality of life in Ipswich, including education. Breaking free of the county could see extra investment being pumped into the town's schools to drive up education standards.

Supporters of unitary status point to this week's league table of pupils' Key Stage 3 performance in maths, science and English, in which five of the bottom six high schools in Suffolk were in Ipswich.

Only two, St Alban's Roman Catholic and Northgate, were in the top 10, with Copleston in 12th place out of a total of 38 Suffolk high schools.

Last month, David Miliband - the Cabinet minister in charge of local government - visited Ipswich for talks with Regional Cities East, a consortium including Colchester and Norwich, which wants the larger urban authorities to be given unitary status.

A report to next week's Ipswich executive, endorsed by council leader Elizabeth Harsant (Conservative), Richard Atkins (Liberal Democrat) and David Ellesmere (Labour), says a unitary council would best serve the interests of the borough.

“This new council would have responsibility for the delivery of all local government services, whereas responsibility is currently split between Suffolk and Ipswich. It would have a strong community leadership role and act as a leading convenor of all public sector services in the Ipswich area,” it says.

Mr Ellesmere told the EADT: “There is a massive duplication of services and the public is confused over which authority is responsible for what. A unitary Ipswich would be more effective and would save the council taxpayer money.”

Mr Ellesmere said the Government did not want to carve up existing districts between different unitary authorities. “However, once a unitary Ipswich is in being, it might make sense for neighbouring communities with strong ties to the town to join us.”

The majority of the population of England already lives in areas of single tier unitary authorities, and local government in Scotland and Wales is entirely on the unitary model.

The more rural areas of England, known as shire counties, have two-tier administration with county councils responsible for strategic, front line services and districts responsible for refuse collection, parks, local planning applications, cemeteries, housing, leisure, street lighting, and concessionary bus fares.

Ministers want to complete the unitary governance of England started by the Tories in the 1980s but it is up to local communities to work together to come forward with a plan to replace counties.

Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said: “We are all working in preparation for the White Paper. The aim of every council should be to deliver the best service most effectively and to look after the most vulnerable people in society.”

A public consultation exercise has been launched and feedback can be e-mailed to: anewipswichcouncil@ipswich.gov.uk

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