What an absolute mess!

IT is entirely fitting that a parliamentary session which has been mired in chaos and doubt should end by inflicting absolute confusion over the local government review in three counties including Suffolk.

Graham Dines

IT is entirely fitting that a parliamentary session which has been mired in chaos and doubt should end by inflicting absolute confusion over the local government review in three counties including Suffolk.

Time is fast running out for the Government to put in place procedures which cannot be undone by the Conservatives if they win the general election.

Suffolk, Norfolk and Devon await a decision from both the Boundary Committee and the Department of Communities. The plans have been derailed by the High Court quashing more than three years of work in Suffolk because no consideration was given to an alternative proposal of splitting the county into three unitary authorities based on Greater Ipswich, East and West.


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Forest Heath, St Edmundsbury and Suffolk Coastal districts, supported by Waveney, asked for a judicial review into the BCE's decision to consider only two options - One Suffolk or Ipswich-Felixstowe and Greater Suffolk.

Ipswich's ruling Conservative and Liberal Democrat group fell in behind the two councils option as the best Ipswich could hope to achieve. But if Communities Secretary John Denham pushes through the proposal to split Suffolk into three, Ipswich would certainly have no objections and neither would the opposition Labour group.

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Babergh could probably be persuaded to back this plan, leaving just Mid Suffolk and the county council to argue for One Suffolk.

If we take 1972 as a precedent, the wholesale review of local government by Edward Heath's Tories had no public consultation. That's because the detailed plans to break up the UK into Scottish regions, super Welsh counties, and metropolitan and shire counties in England were in the legislation.

The current Suffolk, Norfolk, and Devon proposals are not detailed in any legislation - they will be introduced in a Parliamentary order which can only be overturned by primary legislation. In the current tranche of shire reorganisation, unitary government has been introduced in Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire

There is still time for Suffolk, Norfolk and Devon to get councils which, in the words of the Secretary of State, will be “delivering better services, improved efficiency, stronger strategic leadership and genuine engagement and empowerment of local communities.”

It will be a close run thing. Yet it shouldn't be - there really is no reason why a Tory government should interfere in what has been perhaps a too transparent democratic process.

The majority of Conservatives in Suffolk support the three unitary option, as do at least three of the county's Tory MPs.

Instead of declaring loyalty to the two tier form of local government in the shires, a government of either party should back unitary authorities which would deliver millions of pounds of savings and end needless duplication.

Whether counties become single entity unitaries or are divided into large districts is not the issue. The principle of unitaries was established by John Major's Conservative government and the logical conclusion is that the remaining shires should have the same structure of local government as the rest of the United Kingdom.

GUMMER TAKES BINGO TAX BATTLE TO THE COMMONS

SUFFOLK Coastal Tory MP John Gummer called for the proposed tax on bingo clubs to be lowered and that on casinos such as Aspinalls in London's Curzon Street to be increased.

In a debate in the Commons, Mr Gummer said: “In my constituency, bingo is concentrated in Felixstowe. It has a large number of older people, and bingo is an important part of the service that it provides for its residents and for people who come into the town. I want it to go on doing that.

“It employs people and provides others with something that they obviously enjoy and choose to enjoy. Why on earth should they pay more for that enjoyment than people who go off to Aspinalls and other such gathering places and watering holes?”

“There is an innate snobbishness in this Government. They do not want to have a go at the people who go to the smart places along Curzon street and the rest-they do not want to fall out with them, oh no!

“It seems to me that if my constituents want to play bingo, they should be able to do so at a cost that is as low as we can provide for. The taxation should therefore at least be fair, which argues for a lower rate than forms of gambling that only people with greater resources can indulge in.

“How much more sensible it would be if the Government came to the House and said: `We're going to tax the rich more than we do the poor. We're going to put up the tax on casinos sufficiently to make up for the taxation reduction that we're going to make on bingo halls.'

“That is the sort of thing that I would expect from a Labour Government, but we now have to look to the Conservatives for every kind of social support for which we used to look to the Labour Benches.”

JOYLESS IN STRASBOURG

THE new UKIP MEPs for the Eastern Counties, David Campbell Bannerman and Stuart Agnew formally took their seats in the European Parliament this week, but refused to stand for the EU 'national' anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Mr Campbell Bannerman said: “We will not pander to the EU's ambition to become a state in its own right. The British people do not want such a construction at any price.

“After the disturbingly militaristic opening ceremony in the Parliament, during which a detachment of Eurocorp combat troops raised an EU flag, which was twice as big as the flags of the EU member states, no one can be in any doubt about the aspirations of this undemocratic political union.”

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