Counties set to disappear

AS I've always wanted a quiet life at home, I have never neither set foot in a bookmaker's nor gambled on line. But if I were a betting man, I would stake a tenner on the demise of Suffolk and Essex county council's before the end of the decade.

AS I've always wanted a quiet life at home, I have never neither set foot in a bookmaker's nor gambled on line. But if I were a betting man, I would stake a tenner on the demise of Suffolk and Essex county council's before the end of the decade.

There is inevitability about well planted leaks from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on the thinking of key Government ministers, who are ill disposed to the current system of remote shire counties and small, powerless district councils.

It would be the biggest shake-up of local government since 1974 when the Tories merged and axed historic shire counties such as Huntingdonshire and emasculated county boroughs including Ipswich and Norwich, making them subservient to county halls.

Most council tax payers couldn't give a hoot about who organises refuse collection, libraries, and mending pot holes in the road. All they want is high quality and services delivered as efficiently and cheaply as possible and if things go wrong, who they should blame. I live in Ipswich and it is absurd that I have one county councillor who makes decisions on 80% of the services I use and three borough councillors who are responsible for some of the others.


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Government thinking is that the shires of England are over governed. Unitary councils to be found in the metropolitan counties of England and in self governing towns such as Luton, Peterborough and Southend-on-Sea are likely to be proposed in a White Paper this year.

But until we know the size of the new councils - there are many who advocate a unitary Suffolk which would replace one county and seven districts - existing staff and councillors and taxpayers who foot the bill are in a state of uncertainty. Surely it would be in everyone's interest if John Prescott and his “thinking” deputy David Miliband were to stop leaking to their friends in Fleet Street and speeded up publication of their White Paper

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MARGAERT Thatcher was popular with her party and adept at avoiding trouble. That was the verdict of the Tory Chief Whip Francis Pym on two of the party's rising stars as he helped Prime Minister Edward Heath prepare to reshuffle his Cabinet in June 1973.

His frank assessments of the Conservative frontbench team are contained in files released last week to the National Archives at Kew, west London, under the 30 year rule. Pym gave Thatcher - the then Education Secretary - a glowing report, while acknowledging that she was anxious for a new job. “Would like to move, but not to DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security) because she doesn't want `the other obvious woman's department.'”

Treasury minister Patrick Jenkin - father of Essex North MP Bernard - did not fare so well. “Respected for his ability but a somewhat insensitive man and therefore there are reservations in the party,” advised Pym. “Though promotable at some stage, his lack of humour and apparent inflexibility will in my estimate limit his progress.”

Pym's admiration of Mrs T. was not reciprocated. After the 1983 General Election, he was axed as Foreign Secretary because of what she perceived was his timidy in dealing with the Argentines during the Falklands crisis. To quote a Thatcherism “he was not one of us.”

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