Councils shake-up set to be axed?
SENIOR councillors across Suffolk have been told to expect a government decision on council reform next week - fuelling speculation that all proposals will be "kicked into the long grass".
SENIOR councillors across Suffolk have been told to expect a government decision on council reform next week - fuelling speculation that all proposals will be “kicked into the long grass.”
The last date for the Department of Communities and Local Government to accept representations about when any elections should be held for new authorities is Wednesday.
That led Suffolk chief executive Andrea Hill to advise council leaders earlier this week that a decision probably would not be made until early March because it would have to be ratified by the cabinet and a Treasury committee before it was announced.
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However now Whitehall sources have indicated to Suffolk council leaders that the decision is to be announced during the week starting February 8 - fuelling speculation that the proposals for unitary council or councils in the county are being shelved.
A decision to keep the status quo would not need to go through so many Whitehall hoops and would be much easier for local government secretary John Denham to announce.
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Ipswich Borough Council has been campaigning to run all its own services for years, but leader Liz Harsant is now accepting that is unlikely to happen in the near future.
She said: “We have been told to expect an early decision and everyone expects the unitary proposals to be kicked into the long grass.
“When we heard earlier this week the timescale seemed so tight - but there seems little chance of anything being done before a general election now.
“It would not be a massive surprise to anyone if they are shelved now.”
The Conservatives have already warned they will stop any reorganisation of councils into unitary authorities if they win the general election to save the cost of the transitional arrangements.
Suffolk Coastal leader Ray Herring had also heard that an announcement is expected sooner rather than later.
He said: “We did hear from Mrs Hill that a decision would probably be announced in March, but then I was told it would be sooner than that.
“I don't know what that decision will be - but when you think about it, it makes sense that it would be to put all the major proposals on hold.
“If I was secretary of state that's what I would do. I think that with all the other issues facing the country and a general election coming up that's one thing they would not want to have to worry about.”
Councils are still being asked what they think about proposals to reform local government and the electoral arrangements.
The government's Boundary Committee has suggested two possible models for Suffolk - a single council running all services in the county or two unitary councils, one covering Ipswich and Felixstowe and the other covering the rest of the county.
It has even suggested the number of councillors that could be elected for each authority - but the figures it proposes have caused widespread disbelief.
In Ipswich with the Ipswich/Felixstowe option it suggests two councillors should represent 5,700 voters in the Bixley division, which is a safe Conservative seat, and two councillors should represent 16,700 voters in the marginal Chantry division.
Ipswich Labour group leader David Ellesmere said his group was objecting to that. “It seems like a total mistake, as if they are just anxious to get some figures down on paper,” he said.
Mrs Harsant backed Mr Ellesmere's objections but added: “We feel it is all rather academic because it isn't going to happen anyway,” she said.