Local government

Unitary authorities - Exeter and Norwich get green light; Suffolk to decide locally; no change for Norfolk and Devon

Published 10 February 2010

Local Government Minister Rosie Winterton today announced the Government's decisions on unitary proposals for Exeter, Norwich, Ipswich, Norfolk, Devon and Suffolk.

After taking into account local views, Boundary Committee advice and other relevant information the Government is giving the go ahead for Exeter and Norwich to run their cities' local services as unitary councils.

The Government decided that a unitary structure for Exeter and Norwich would make each a far more potent economic force than the current two-tier local government, and will make sure these two key regional cities are ready to seize the opportunities opening up as the recovery begins to promote growth, reduce unemployment, and rebuild local economies.

As single city-wide unitary authorities Exeter and Norwich will be ideally placed to adopt a Total Place approach to local services in a time of financial constraint; delivering better joined up services that promote greater value for money, by focusing more clearly on the needs of individual users.

After careful consideration of the Boundary Committee's advice and the views of local councils, MPs, stakeholders and the public Ministers found there was widespread support for some form of unitary government in Suffolk but no single proposal emerged. The Government is now asking Suffolk councils and MPs to reach a consensus on what unitary solution they want through a countywide constitutional convention.

After listening to local views and Boundary Committee advice, Ministers decided there was no option but to rule out unitary authorities for the whole of Norfolk and Devon, as they could not succeed without commanding the support of the local councils.

The proposals for unitary authorities for Norwich and Exeter will now be voted on by Parliament before they become law. If Parliament approves the proposals, the councils can start putting in place transitional arrangements ready for the new unitaries to deliver all local government services in their cities from 1 April 2011.

Rosie Winterton said:

"Our highest priority is to have the best and most efficient local services for the people of Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk and for those areas to have the strong local leadership they need. We have considered the Boundary Committee advice, the views of local councils, MPs and local people and made individual decisions according to the unique circumstances in each area.

"Strong decisive local government will play an essential role in promoting economic growth, reducing unemployment and rebuilding the local economy as we move towards recovery. Exeter and Norwich are at the centre of regional economic activity in their areas and their economic performance is crucial for their residents and the wider area. That's why today we're putting Norwich and Exeter's local leaders who know their areas best in charge of delivering all local services and at the heart of delivering growth.

"Across Norfolk, Devon and Suffolk we listened carefully to all views and it was clear the options of unitary structures for the whole of Norfolk and Devon had no support. As a result the Government had no option but to rule out unitary authorities for the whole of Norfolk and Devon as we did not feel these bodies could succeed without local support.

"After careful consideration of the Boundary Committee's recommendations and representations from local councils, MPs, stakeholders and the public Ministers found that there were divergent views across Suffolk local councils as to what would be the best unitary solution for the county. No single proposal emerged that Ministers believed that local councils would unite behind.

"We are therefore inviting all the Suffolk councils and MPs through a countywide constitutional convention to reach a consensus on a unitary solution for that area."

Notes to editors

1. Proposals for unitary authorities in the Norwich City, Exeter City and Ipswich Borough areas were originally put to Ministers in 2007 but despite strong cases being made these proposals were put on hold as they did not meet the full criteria. In Februrary 2008 the Boundary Committee were asked to look at alternative unitary solutions in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon.

2. The process was delayed by judicial reviews and the Committee provided their advice in December 2009. They recommended a single unitary council for Devon, a single unitary council for Norfolk and two proposals either for a single unitary council for Suffolk or a two-unitary pattern comprising an Ipswich and Felixstowe authority and a Rural Suffolk authority.

3. The Government announced a six-week period of representations about the advice and the original proposals. Ministers received over 2,700 representations and had meetings with many of the councils concerned and MPs for the areas. They found the Boundary Committee's recommendations for Norfolk and Devon did not have the support of any of the areas' principal councils. In Suffolk a number of separate proposals had support but no single idea was generally acceptable.

4. After considering the Committee's advice and local views Ministers decided to take forward the original proposals for Exeter and Norwich - which both had the support of the city councils. Although these proposals did not meet the full criteria developed in 2006, since then the economic climate has changed. Today the highest priority is for local leaders to provide strategic leadership to promote economic growth.

5. Ministers believed that the lack of clear cross section of support for a unitary pattern in Suffolk, Norfolk and Devon, means that there was doubt that they would be able to operate as effective democratic institutions.

6. Restructuring is delivering over £150m savings a year in the 9 new unitaries created last year in Cornwall, Wiltshire, Shropshire, Durham, Northumberland, Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester - savings which are being used directly to improve front line services or to reduce council tax bills. These new councils are delivering better services, greater empowerment, and providing a stronger strategic voice for these places.

7. Plans for reorganisation were announced as part of the radical Local Government White Paper in October 2006 in recognition that there can be difficulties in two-tier authorities providing strong, clear, local leadership, and effective, accountable public services.


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