Concern voiced as Ipswich breaks away

Thursday, 26 July, 2007

AS Ipswich councillors celebrated their unitary success, Suffolk was left to pick up the pieces and try to assess how local government services from Lowestoft to Sudbury and Felixstowe to Mildenhall would be affected.

County council leader Jeremy Pembroke was handed the consolation of hearing Suffolk's Pathfinder bid with the other six district county districts - Babergh, Mid Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal, Forest Heath, Waveney and St Edmundsbury - had been approved by the Government.

However, he was shocked the Government had decided to break up the county.

'We now have to unpick 20% of our services and hand them over to Ipswich, but there is unlikely to be a 20% reduction on our costs.

'We now have to assess the knock on effect on the rest of the county. We don't believe the decision will turn out to be in the best interests of either Ipswich or Suffolk. We have built up four star services over the years and now these will be dismantled.

'It is all very sad and unnecessary.'

David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, deplored the Ipswich decision, which he claimed was 'political gerrymandering' to try to shore up the position of Ipswich's Labour MP at the next election. 'There is little evidence to suggest that services within Ipswich will improve and the process of reorganisation will have a serious impact on the wider quality of life enjoyed by Suffolk residents.

'A unitary Ipswich will require a new budget structure, the relocation and redeployment of staff, the redistribution of assets and property and the possible renegotiation of existing contracts. All this pen pushing will distract our councils from what they are elected to do - representing the interests of the people of Suffolk and Ipswich.'

Mr Ruffley added: 'The creation of a unitary Ipswich is going to result in a duplication of effort and create an unnecessary tier of bureaucracy - unfortunately it is the people of Suffolk who will ultimately suffer.'

However all three party leaders in Ipswich attributed the borough's success to the political unity shown by the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Council leader Liz Harsant broke ranks with the Conservative Party nationally to lead the winning bid.

'I was under enormous pressure from Conservative Central Office to resist bidding for unitary status,' said Mrs Harsant. 'But I have always believed that Ipswich is big enough to run its own affairs.

'Councillors from rural areas do not understand urban values and problems and I am delighted that the Government has listened to our arguments.'

Deputy council leader Richard Atkins, a Liberal Democrat, said the fact all 48 borough councillors and the 13 county councillors who represent Ipswich had supported the bid had played a major part in the Government's decision.

Labour group leader David Ellesmere, who is confident his party will be able to take outright control of the new authority at next year's elections, praised the spirit of co-operation shown by politicians in the borough.

'The town's Labour MP Chris Mole has also been behind the bid - and he is a former leader of the county council,' said Mr Ellesmere.

Mr Mole, who is a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Communities, the Government department which made the decision, said: 'This is excellent news that Ipswich will be able to drive its own destiny. Unitary status has been a long held wish for the town and the Government has rightly recognised the strength of the case that has been made.

'I welcome the news that Ipswich will be able to organise all local government services in our town in order to address the specific urban needs of the borough, to drive its economic development and to better address the education, care and leisure needs of our growing population.'

Congratulations were sent to Ipswich from St Edmundsbury council leader John Griffiths said: 'We will be very carefully considering any implications of this decision and continue our work in providing a better and more cost effective service for residents in the long term.'

Julian Swainson, who leads the opposition Labour group on the county council, congratulated Ipswich and said its residents 'will now enjoy the opportunity to have an integrated and accountable local authority that focuses on the needs and aspirations of the borough.

'However this decision leaves the rest of Suffolk in a difficult situation, with no current proposals for improving local governance. The Suffolk Labour Group calls on ministers to introduce unitary local authorities to the rest of Suffolk as a matter of urgency, consulting with local communities to determine effective boundaries.'

County Liberal Democrats pleaded for a smooth transition of power and for Suffolk and Ipswich to work together to ensure services were maintained during the handover.