Unitary plans: questions and answers

Q: What is the purpose of the structural review?A: To establish whether a single all-purpose (or unitary) council should be established instead of the existing two-tier system.

Graham Dines

Q: What is the purpose of the structural review?

A: To establish whether a single all-purpose (or unitary) council should be established instead of the existing two-tier system. In England, there are currently a number of shire counties where two different councils - county and district - provide local government services.

Q: Why are Suffolk and Norfolk being singled out? Why not Essex?

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A: The review was ordered by the Secretary of State when Ipswich and Norwich - and also Exeter in Devon - put forward plans to break free from their counties to form stand alone councils. The Government decided that the financial cases of all three did not stack up and rejected the bids. However, ministers saw merit in reorganising local government in all three counties on unitary lines and requested the Boundary Committee for England to come up with proposals. Essex and other shire counties have not been included because no district authority within their areas wanted all-purpose powers. All England's major cities, and the whole of Scotland and Wales, are unitary as are the counties of the Isle of Wight and Herefordshire. Under a recent review, new unitary authorities are being created for Cornwall, Wiltshire, Shropshire, County Durham, Northumberland, Cheshire and Bedfordshire.

Q: Is the status quo an option?

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A: No. The Secretary of State has requested only unitary solutions be submitted.

Q: What is a unitary authority?

It is a local authority responsible for delivering all local government functions within its area.

Q: What will the effect be on council?

A: At worst it will be cost neutral, at best millions of pounds will be saved which should cut council tax bills. The number of councillors will be slashed dramatically, while the new councils should employ fewer staff than the county and seven districts.

Q: Will Suffolk still exist?

A: Yes. The integrity of the county's boundaries will not be changed. However, Lowestoft could at a future date be transferred to Norfolk if residents agree.

Q: What is the Boundary Committee for England?

A: It is an independent body which looks at local government boundaries in England. The Boundary Commission for England is responsible for parliamentary boundaries. Both are responsible to the Electoral Commission, which again is free from government interference. The advice is impartial and it is up to the Secretary of State whether the recommended finals concepts should be given the go-ahead.

Q: What happens next?

A: There will now be 12 weeks during which time public comment is invited. After September 26, the Boundary Committee will then review its proposals in the light of representations received and consider whether they should be altered. Final advice will be submitted to the Secretary of State by December 31. The Government will publish its verdict in late winter and parliamentary orders will be laid. If ward boundaries can be agreed, elections to the shadow authorities are likely in June 2009 - at the same time as the European elections.

Q: How can you comment?

A: The review can be downloaded from the internet at www.boundarycommittee.org.uk. Information will be available in all libraries. Submissions can be emailed to reviews@boundarycommittee.org.uk or posted to: Review Manager (Norfolk/Suffolk Review), The Boundary Committee for England, Trevelyan House, Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2HW

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