Could Suffolk get a new form of unitary council? Counties back reforms
A new proposal to shake up local government, creating a unitary authority in Suffolk, is set to be discussed by council leaders from across England next week.
The County Council Network has commissioned a report from the think tank ResPublica which calls for traditional districts and boroughs to be abolished and replaced by a new single layer of administration.
ResPublica said the reform could result in national savings of billions of pounds and potential gains to the economy in England’s county areas of £31bn over five years.
At the same time, it would mean improvements for Suffolk businesses, housebuilding, and public services that are essential to avoid the county becoming ‘left-behind’.
There are two ways this could happen. One plan would see district and borough councils abolished, with some of their budgets and buildings given to local parish and town councils.
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Alternatively, the leaders of the districts could become a ‘cabinet’ for Suffolk County Council, making decisions together so that they would have to agree what was best for the county overall.
The report will be launched at the County Council Network’s Annual Conference on Monday. Secretary of State for Local Government Sajid Javid will speak at the conference alongside local government leaders.
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Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble said: “I’m aware of this report from ResPublica which will be showcased at the County Council Network Conference on Monday. We will all listen to the details of the report with great interest.
“There have been a number of reports produced that offer views on how local government may change in the future, and this is the latest of those reports. We need to keep our minds open, given the financial pressures that are at the forefront of our minds.”
Local pressure group Orwell Ahead has been pressing for a reform of local government – but wants to see a unitary authority for the Ipswich/Felixstowe area alongside separate councils for east and west Suffolk.
Mark Ling from the group said: “Orwell Ahead would, at face value, welcome the study and support a sensible debate on the structure of local government.”
But he said it was important that decisions for the Ipswich area were taken locally – not by councillors from Lakenheath or Lowestoft.