MP disputes Ipswich unitary bid finances

Tuesday, 23 January, 2007

IPSWICH will this week make its bid to free itself from county council control, claiming its status as part of 'rural Suffolk' is holding it back and increasing social deprivation, crime and disorder.

The borough's plans, which are due to be ratified tonight , will go to the Government, which will decide whether the case has been made for an independent Ipswich capable of running all its own services including education, libraries and social care.

However, Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley claimed the unitary bid by Ipswich and other districts and counties in England could cost up to £345 for every council tax-paying household.

In its business case to be submitted to Communities and Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly, Ipswich stresses that it is different from the rest of Suffolk with severe urban problems and challenges unlike the rest of the mainly rural county.

'The town has significant problems with drugs, crime, deprivation, and a significant and growing migratory population,' says the bid document, which claims many people in the borough are not able to achieve their full educational potential and have 'compromised health outcomes.'

An independent Ipswich would be capable of taking on direct responsibilities for education, children's services, adult social care and working very closely with the health sector.

'The current two-tier government structure is confusing and contradictory, with lack of accountability, a confused split of services, and inherent inefficiencies.'

The way Ipswich is governed would be streamlined - annual elections would be replaced by all-out elections every four years and the number of councillors slashed from 48 to 35. Area committees would be established to devolve power and budgets to neighbourhoods.

Ipswich is not alone in its bid. Several county councils such as Cheshire, Somerset and Cornwall are seeking the scrapping of their districts to be replaced with unitary county councils while a number of shire districts, including Norwich, Exeter, Oxford, Preston, Lancaster, want to be unitary authorities.

In its submission to Mrs Kelly, the borough councils says a unitary Ipswich would not have 'a detrimental impact on council tax services' - one of the stipulations issued by the Government, which insists any bid must be cost neutral.

However Mr Ruffley has warned that research by Cambridge University indicates the very opposite, with reorganisation costing £121 a head and could increase to £345 for every council tax paying household.

'Reorganisation will undermine local identities, replacing well-understood, historic boroughs and counties with `sub-regional' unitary hybrids that have little popular support,' claimed the Bury MP.