Unitary bid could cost Ipswich £8m

AN £8MILLION black hole in Ipswich's finances will have to be plugged by council taxpayers if it is granted unitary status, Suffolk county councillors have claimed.

By Graham Dines

AN £8MILLION black hole in Ipswich's finances will have to be plugged by council taxpayers if it is granted unitary status, Suffolk county councillors have claimed.

But Ipswich council leaders said going it alone was financially viable and would reduce duplication.

As the county council steps up its campaign to try to block the Government giving Ipswich the go-ahead to break free of Suffolk, the authority said it currently spent £68m on providing education, social care and other services in the borough, but only £39m of that cash is raised from Ipswich council taxpayers.

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Government grants cover £21m of the spending, leaving council taxpayers in the rest of the county to cover the £8m shortfall.

But if Ipswich does leave Suffolk to go it alone, that subsidy from the county will vanish and, according to the county's deputy leader Sue Sida-Lockett, Ipswich will be forced to either put up council tax or cut services.

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Last month, Government ministers cleared Ipswich's unitary bid but before making the final go-ahead, they are waiting to see what support there is in the community and to assess the impact there will be on the rest of the county.

Secretary of State Ruth Kelly is employing accountants PriceWaterhouseCooper to check the finances submitted by Ipswich and 16 other local authorities who have also made the final cut in the bidding process.

County councillors are galvanising opposition to the Ipswich bid, and they are expected to receive the backing of the other six district authorities - Suffolk Coastal, Mid Suffolk, Waveney, Babergh, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath.

Liz Harsant, leader of Ipswich borough council, hit back at the county's figures.

“As a unitary council, Ipswich would provide directly or indirectly all the local authority services in the town. This means that Ipswich would have services transferred from the county council,” she said.

“We used the leading specialist local government financial consultants to put together our case and of course to be successful we had to get through the Treasury inspection. In fact our figures show £32m coming from Government grants.

“I confirm that there would be no increase in council tax in Ipswich due to us becoming a unitary. In fact we are predicting making significant annual savings through less duplication, less bureaucracy and less waste. All these facts were included in our business case to the Government.”

“Suffolk County Council has already stated that they have severe financial problems so this should be seen as an opportunity for them to make improvements.”

The Ipswich bid has the unanimous backing of the three political parties on the borough council and is also supported by the 13 county councillors from Ipswich - 10 Labour, two Liberal Democrats, and one Tory.

However, in an EADT on-line poll, there was a majority against Ipswich of more than four to one against. A decision from the Government is expected in July.


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