Single Suffolk unitary would save £50m

A SINGLE overarching unitary authority embracing the whole of Suffolk will save tax payers £50million if the Government gives it the green-light, it was claimed last night.

Graham Dines

A SINGLE overarching unitary authority embracing the whole of Suffolk will save tax payers £50million if the Government gives it the green-light, it was claimed last night.

The figure works out at around £100 per household and will be an attractive option for those residents feeling the pinch in the wake of the credit crunch.

The claim has been made by county council leader Jeremy Pembroke as he looks to rally support for a One Suffolk unitary authority.

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The move is at odds with plans currently being considered by the Boundary Committee for England (BCE) - which is overseeing a massive shake-up of local government.

The committee wants to abolish the county council and Suffolk's seven districts and replace them with two unitaries - Ipswich-Felixstowe and Suffolk rural - with Lowestoft being absorbed into a single unitary for Norfolk.

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Mr Pembroke is undaunted that his preferred option is not the first choice of the BCE but he believes the prospect of £50m of savings - leading to a reduction in council tax of £100 per household - will make it an attractive alternative for the county's residents.

However critics have accused the county council of misinterpreting what the BCE has recommended and of misleading the public by saying One Suffolk is still an option

Mr Pembroke, who wants Lowestoft to remain in Suffolk, has launched a series of high profile consultations with stake holders - including business leaders, education chiefs, health authority leaders and parish councillors.

He said: “There is no doubt that a single council in Suffolk has the potential to save £50m in costs compared to what Suffolk council tax payers pay out at the moment.

“We estimate savings of £26m would result purely from having one council operation instead of eight. Cutting duplication will result in a new One Suffolk council spending £26m less a year, and a similar amount will be saved by changing the way the new council does business."

But last night Andrew Cann, the Liberal Democrats' deputy county leader, accused the Tories of misleading the public.

“Jeremy Pembroke's claims to be able to save £50m from One Suffolk have to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt,” he said. “The Tories have persisted in misleading the public regarding the local government review.

“Only this week I have complained to senior officers about county claims that the BCE is consulting on two options for Suffolk: a draft proposal and an alternative. The Boundary Committee has not said this - it is consulting on its preferred option.

“The claim that the Boundary Committee backs One Suffolk is simply untrue. It has one preferred option for Suffolk - a solution with two councils.”

The BCE is looking at proposals to create an Ipswich-Felixstowe authority - which would include Shotley peninsula and the villages of Capel St Mary and Stratford St Mary and a Suffolk Rural authority - which would stretch from Southwold to Newmarket and Sudbury, with its headquarters likely to be in Bury St Edmunds.

Ray Herring, leader of Suffolk Coastal district, opposes an Ipswich-Felixstowe link and supports two unitaries split along an east/west divide - an option advocated by five of the county's districts as “a golden opportunity” to provide better, more efficient services that engaged with and served local communities.

“It has been squandered with a carve-up that has butchered our county and our districts” Mr Herring said. “One option is unworkable and the other unthinkable.”

Opposing One Suffolk, he added: “I cannot see how creating one geographically massive new council will be locally accountable, while to date there has been absolutely no support for such a hare-brained idea.”

The final plans will be drawn up in the autumn and submitted to the Electoral Commission, which will pass them to the Communities Secretary for a final decision ahead of a possible implementation date of April 2010.

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