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Too late for Wiltshire - government saves democracy in Exeter, Norwich and Suffolk

May 26, 2011 5:57 PM

Wasteful and unnecessary restructuring plans for Exeter, Norwich and Suffolk Councils were stopped by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles.

Unfortunately the wasteful and unnecessary restructuring plans for Wiltshire have already been pushed through by local Conservatives without the consent of the local taxpayer, and it's probably too late now to do anything about them.

Today's decision will save the taxpayer £40m in restructuring costs, remove the risk of further pressure on local council tax bills, and avoid a costly distraction from the priority of delivering local services and genuine efficiency gains.

An urgent Bill was put through Parliament by the coalition Government to revoke the orders that created the new unitary councils.

The independent Boundary Committee recommended last December that the unitary plans for Exeter and Norwich should not be implemented. There were concerns about affordability, the risk of fragmenting local services, and the lack of widespread local support.

Speaking in May 2010 Mr Pickles said:

"When the priority must be to tackle the immense public deficit we have inherited, it is ludicrous that taxpayers' money is being wasted imposing a council reorganisation in Exeter and Norwich.

This Government made it clear in its Coalition Agreement that reducing unnecessary spending would be part of how we cut the deficit. Today I am pulling the plug on this expensive distraction and saving the taxpayer £40m of restructuring costs.

Councils in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk will now be able to concentrate on delivering services to their communities and achieving genuine savings for the local people who elected them."

The Secretary of State also called a halt to the consultation on proposed changes to Suffolk. Councils in Suffolk had been asked to establish a county constitutional convention to reach a consensus on a unitary structure for Suffolk. This will now be cancelled and all restructuring plans for Suffolk will be stopped.

Notes

1. The October 2006 Local Government White Paper invited councils to submit proposals for unitary restructuring. In January 2007, Exeter and Norwich City Councils and Ipswich Borough Council submitted proposals. In December 2007, the then ministers judged that these did not meet the full criteria, and asked the Boundary Committee to look at alternative proposals for the whole or part of Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk.

2. The Committee provided their advice in December last year recommending a single unitary council for Devon, a single unitary council for Norfolk, and made two proposals in Suffolk - a single unitary council for Suffolk (the Committee's preferred option) or a two-unitary pattern comprising an Ipswich and Felixstowe authority and a Rural Suffolk authority. This was followed by a six week period of representations about the advice and the original proposals from the city and borough councils.

3. The then ministers received over 2,700 representations and had meetings with many of the councils concerned and MPs for the areas. They concluded that the Boundary Committee's recommendations for Norfolk and Devon did not have the support of any of the areas' principal councils and they decided to take no action on the Committee's proposals for those councils. Whilst acknowledging that the original proposals for Exeter and Norwich did not meet all the criteria, the then ministers decided nevertheless to go ahead with them and create unitary councils for those cities from 1 April 2011.

4. Implementing these unitary proposals was estimated to involve £40m restructuring costs to be incurred up to 2014-15. In that period, it was forecast that savings of £39.4m could also be achieved. From 2015-16 annual savings of £6.5m were forecast. Councils should be able to make savings of this scale and more including through sensible co-operation between each other and with partners, without the need for any reorganisation.