'Services will suffer from unitary bid'

KEY public services such as education and social care will have to be cut if Ipswich's dream of independence from Suffolk is given the go-ahead, county councillors have warned.

By Graham Dines

KEY public services such as education and social care will have to be cut if Ipswich's dream of independence from Suffolk is given the go-ahead, county councillors have warned.

The councillors claim they have identified a £19m black hole in the borough council's business case as it bids for unitary status.

Figures released by Suffolk yesterday indicated that Ipswich had miscalculated by £5m the start-up costs of a new authority and by £14m in increased running costs over the first five years.


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Such a shortfall was the equivalent of an annual £327 rise in council tax - but as the Government has told councils seeking unitary status that their proposals must be cost-neutral, the county council said there would be no alternative but to slash frontline services.

“In our view, Ipswich's proposals simply do not stack up,” said Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke.

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“They will not improve public services, they will not deliver value for money, and they will not benefit the people of Ipswich or the people of Suffolk.”

He said Ipswich residents were receiving good and improving services under the county council and he was worried that residents of Lowestoft, Felixstowe, Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury and the county would be affected by services being reorganised to allow Ipswich to go its own way.

Suffolk's chief executive Mike More said the Government had given the council a public responsibility to ensure a proper debate throughout Suffolk on the unitary bid. “It is a matter of financial importance for generations of Suffolk to come,” he said.

Next week's meeting of the county council will be asked to endorse a 60-page report outlining Suffolk's objections to the unitary bid - but Labour has indicated it will not support the Conservative Party line.

Julian Swainson, the party's county group leader, said it would be a waste of council taxpayers' money to campaign against a unitary Ipswich.

He said the Tories had “missed a trick” by not including an all-Suffolk unitary option for consideration by ministers. Labour councillors wanted a genuine public debate and consultation about how local government could be made more efficient and locally accountable “not a slanging match between the two tiers of local government.”

Ipswich council leader Liz Harsant said: “The county council is scare-mongering with its claims and we need to remember that none of its figures have been checked.

“Our financial case has been checked by the Department for Communities & Local Government, the Treasury and the Audit Commission.

“The truth is that the cost of establishing a new council will be repaid within four years and annual savings will bring a reduction in council tax bills - claims that council tax will have to go up to pay for a unitary Ipswich council are not true.”

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