Ipswich set for unitary status

IPSWICH is almost certain to become a stand alone authority in the next three years with responsibility for all local government services under plans being formulated by the Government.

By Graham Dines

IPSWICH is almost certain to become a stand alone authority in the next three years with responsibility for all local government services under plans being formulated by the Government.

Although the borough's population is below the optimum population size of 250,000 for new unitary authorities, the minister in charge of English regions David Miliband believes a number of smaller councils have enough clout in their own right to be cut lose from the current structure of county councils.

Next week, borough councillors will be asked by Chief Executive James Hehir to back an Ipswich unitary council - a formality because all three party leaders on the council, Liz Harsant (Conservative), Richard Atkins (Liberal Democrat) and David Ellesmere (Labour) are in favour.

A White Paper on city regions is due to be published next week, ahead of a White Paper on the vision for English local government in June.

And Mr Miliband will host a meeting in Ipswich on March 10 of local authorities pressing for city regions status, including Norwich, Colchester, Luton, Peterborough and Southend.

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Ipswich is also a member of the so-called group 1-One - Ipswich, Oxford, Norwich, Exeter - which is working up plans to give existing county towns unitary status.

Unlike the Tory upheaval of local government in 1972, Labour's June White Paper will not impose reorganisation, but will invite county and district councils to propose new governance arrangements.

If districts want to join to form large all-purpose unitary authorities, the Government is unlikely to stand in their way.

The timetable envisages local authority submissions by September, legislation signalled in the Queen's Speech in November, Royal Assent the following October, shadow elections to the new authorities in May 2008, and the new councils taking over services on April 1 2009.

While the Government will not sanction the splitting of current districts between new authorities, if a district volunteers such a solution it will be considered.

If Ipswich goes it alone, a solution will have to be found for the rest of Suffolk. Alternatives include Waveney joining with Great Yarmouth and South Norfolk districts in a unitary authority, West and East Suffolk unitaries, or a unitary county including Waveney.

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