Turmoil behind that unitary decision

IN an extraordinary last-minute move, Government ministers changed their mind and aborted plans to implement a One Suffolk unitary authority which would have swept away the county and seven districts.

Graham Dines

IN an extraordinary last-minute move, Government ministers changed their mind and aborted plans to implement a One Suffolk unitary authority which would have swept away the county and seven districts.

Internal correspondence in the Department for Communities and Local Government, and seen by me, clearly indicates that the One Suffolk unitary, as proposed by the county council, would save �26million over the next five years and annual savings after that of �21m.

However Secretary of State John Denham told his Permanent Secretary Peter Housden that he would not proceed with One Suffolk - or the Boundary Committee for England's preferred alternative of an Ipswich-Felixstowe unitary and a Greater Suffolk council covering the rest of the county - because “neither option is supported by the principal councils in the county.”


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This strange statement is contrary to the fact that One Suffolk was the county council's proposal and as the authority is the largest principal council in Suffolk, it certainly had influential backers!

Mr Denham wrote to his Permanent Secretary: “There is wide agreement across the county that there should be a unitary solution in some form. Accordingly, I have decided not now to reach a final statutory decision and invite all the Suffolk councils and MPs, consulting other stakeholders and through a county constitutional convention, to reach a consensus on a unitary solution for that area.”

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Mr Denham was responding to concerns from his Permanent Secretary - who is also accounting officer at the ministry with specific responsibilities for the “efficient, economic and effective use of resources” in the department - that ministers were not implementing the most cost-effective unitary solutions in Suffolk, Norfolk and Devon.

Ministers had also reversed an earlier decision rejecting unitary status for Exeter and Norwich, and have given the two cities the green light to break away from Devon and Norfolk county councils, despite being told that neither would be economic.

When told that ministers were rejecting the Boundary Committee's advice, the Permanent Secretary, covering his back, demanded a written instruction from the Secretary of State which would be forwarded to the Comptroller and Auditor General, who will normally draw the matter to the attention of the Public Accounts Committee.”

“My main concern about your proposed course has to be value for money for the public purse. It would impact adversely on the financial position of the public sector as compared with the alternative courses open to you,” he told Mr Denham.

“You currently share the Boundary Committee's views that a single unitary Suffolk meets all the criteria and if you were to implement it, over the same period, there would be estimated savings of some �26m, involving transitional costs of �42m and gross savings of �68m, and annual savings thereafter estimated at �21m.

“My clear legal advice is that the risk of decisions for a unitary Exeter and Norwich, and indeed for not taking action on Suffolk, being successfully challenged in judicial review proceedings in very high.”

EAST EURO MPs OVERCOME BY HORSE SENSE

TWO of the region's Conservative Euro MPs are backing a campaign organised by World Horse Welfare to end ill-treatment of horses being transported for slaughter, a problem largely affecting horses on the continent of Europe.

Currently some 100,000 horses a year are being transported across Europe to slaughter, many of them without proper rest, food or water and in overly cramped conditions.

A written declaration - similar to a House of Commons Early Day Motion - calling on the Commission to enforce rules governing the welfare of animals during transport to slaughter was adopted by the European Parliament after Conservatives - including the East region's Geoffrey Van Orden and Vicky Ford - actively campaigned for the necessary number of signatures.

They emphasised, however, that this initiative focuses exclusively on slaughter horses, and warned against unnecessary legislation being imposed on the thoroughbred trade and racing sector, which already upholds exemplary animal welfare standards.

Mr Van Orden said: “Conservatives are very supportive of animal welfare measures. Now we want to see that rules already in place are properly enforced on the Continent.

“A distinction has to be maintained between the transportation of animals for slaughter and for other reasons. In the UK, and in the East of England, the thoroughbred industry has an excellent record on transport conditions, and of course, has an interest in seeing that the horses are treated well in transit. Horse racing and breeding is an important part of our local economy, employing some 7,000 people in the Newmarket area.”

Mrs Ford said that horse lovers across the East of England had been shocked by the stories that have unravelled from continental Europe. “Most of these journeys are completely unnecessary as slaughter facilities exist across Europe - we want to see an end to slaughter horses being moved around like this.

“There has been an overwhelming response to the World Horse Welfare campaign from East of England residents, and I am delighted the declaration has been adopted.”

UFO'S BUZZ MICHAEL HOWARDUFO files released by the Ministry of Defence reveal that in 1997, reports emerged of a large triangular UFO hovering in the skies above former Home Secretary Michael Howard's home near Folkestone, Kent.

Eyewitnesses in Burmarsh and New Romney saw the ``humming'' object, the size of two passenger planes, near Mr Howard's home on March 8, 1997, when he was serving as Home Secretary for the Conservative government.

Sophie Wadleigh, 25, from Hythe, reported: ``It was so peculiar, it all felt really odd and I heard this humming noise. As I looked across the field I saw a large triangular-shaped flying craft hovering about 300 metres off the ground.''

The MoD responded: “Air Defence staff have confirmed that there is no evidence to suggest any unauthorised incursion of the UK Air Defence Region on that date.''

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