Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Government cock-up over Suffolk councils

It was the local government reforms of 1974 that united the old East Suffolk and West Suffolk county councils. The burghs, charter towns that had escaped the feudal dues by paying tax directly to the sovereign, usually had their own jealously-guarded administrations, which for Ipswich until 1966 included its own police force. East Suffolk, West Suffolk, Ipswich. It worked well for centuries.

More recently, the county has been administered by a single County Council and seven District Councils. The Boundary Committee (as opposed to the Boundary Commission) has proposed either creating a single-tier authority for the whole of Suffolk that would have swept away the existing district councils, or the absurdity of a single-tier authority covering Ipswich and Felixtowe and another for 'Great Suffolk'. The suggestions could only have come from a demented mind unfamiliar with local allegiances and associations. Three of the districts launched a judicial review into why the Committee hadn't considered their favoured option of creating three unitaries; East Suffolk, West Suffolk and, er, Ipswich. They won.

John Denham, the new Communities Secretary, is now left floundering as the Suffolk decision effectively puts the stop to his plans for Norfolk and Devon. The evidence suggests that Denham's Committee was deaf to local proposals, being determined to push through Whitehall's option at all costs. In an abrupt email exchange, the Committee responded to the local bodies;
We appreciate that local authorities would like the opportunity for further discussions with the Committee. However, we wish to emphasise the Committee's desire for positive and constructive discussions focusing on the draft proposal and the other pattern identified in the Committee's report.
In other words, 'get lost - we're not listening'. Gall and his Whitehall Committee persevered with their fruitcake plans, even despite the local councils providing clear evidence of its lack of local support;
As you know, Waveney, Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury Councils maintain the view that a three unitary solution comprising Greater Ipswich, East Suffolk and West Suffolk best meets the Secretary of State's criteria in aggregate. We very much hope that you will be issuing a workbook on this option.We would also like to draw your attention to several key findings of recently published independent opinion research which found that:

1. More than half the population of Suffolk is not aware that a review has been taking place (a finding, we believe, that should be of some concern to you)

2. Nearly nine out of ten felt that the three unitary solution of Ipswich/East/West should be consulted upon by the Boundary Committee

3. They support this option by a margin of more than 2:1 over any other option.
Mr Justice Foskett agreed that the Councils had a case, and has granted relief in a form yet to be determined. A victory for local determination and common sense so far, at least.

Large unitaries are not of course the lowest level at which many administrative functions can most effectively be exercised. For that we need to look at the old Hundreds. But it's a start. And if Ipswich gets its own Police Force back as a result, as it should do, it will restore much local accountability.

2 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

As you know I have vague connections with the Southern Folk so I have been vaguely following this. Glad to see that some sense has been arrived at. When I heard the proposals I couldn't help thinking "isn't this exactly the wrong direction to be moving in?". Why can't there be several smaller unitary districts covering reasonably cohesive units? One plan even involved moving a whole town from Suffolk to Norfolk, which shows how utterly ignorant of local issues Whitehall is.

Yokel said...

Ipswich get its own police force back? What ARE you on?

The plan is that the police farces will be the enforcement wing of the Regional Government to which these Unitary Parish Councils will be beholden.