United council 'would save £85m'

ONE giant unitary council providing all services in Suffolk would save residents £85million over the next five years and cut the average council tax bill by at least £100, claims a report published today.

Graham Dines

ONE giant unitary council providing all services in Suffolk would save residents £85million over the next five years and cut the average council tax bill by at least £100, claims a report published today.

Suffolk County Council says it has calculated the potential savings in response to the Boundary Committee for England's (BCE) verdict that the case for One Suffolk has “merit” and should be fully explored and costed.

Under the authority's proposal, which is supported by Mid Suffolk district, Lowestoft would remain in Suffolk instead of the controversial alternative of it joining Norfolk in one super size county authority covering a combined population of 900,000 people.

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It is claimed the £85million in savings would arise from ending duplication of services, reducing the number of staff and council offices, and axing the management tiers in the county and district and replacing them with one set of senior officers.

The annual overall council tax bill for residents would reduce immediately, claims the authority, and after five years householders will be better off by £100 a year in most of the county and by £125 in Ipswich, which currently sets the highest tax rate in Suffolk.

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They claim it would allow the new council to hand millions of pounds to community boards, to be established to overcome concerns that a single council, probably based in Ipswich, would be remote.

The proposed boards would spend the cash on local priorities, replacing the current system of schemes to competing with each other from a cash-limited central pot of money

After five years, the county calculates that the proposed set up would result in annual savings to council taxpayers of £30million a year

The county's chief executive Andrea Hill said: “The single council for Suffolk presents best value for local people. It will make huge savings that will be invested into local services and gives £18million back to the community.”

A public relations tug-of-war is currently being waged by county and district councils on a number of alternatives including a Greater Ipswich and splitting Suffolk west and east.

The BCE, which has been instructed by the Government to come up with a “unitary solution” to replace the existing county and seven districts in the county, has as its preferred option splitting Suffolk between two councils, one based on Ipswich-Felixstowe and the Shotley Peninsular, and a Rural Suffolk stretching from Sudbury, Brandon, Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds to Beccles, Southwold, Aldeburgh and Woodbridge.

The county council believes the financial case for One Suffolk is so powerful that the BCE will be persuaded to drop its preferred two-council solution in favour of the single county unitary.

Suffolk Police Authority has already given its backing to the county's plans and Suffolk Strategic Health Authority is expected to give its endorsement later this week.

Campaigner Reg Hartles, chairman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, gave them a cautious welcome.

“Most people in the county don't have any idea on the unitary proposals because no detailed information has been sent to them. However, I welcome absolutely any proposal that will reduce pensioners and others on fixed incomes,” said Mr Hartles.

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