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MPs bid to block council shake-up

PUBLISHED: 10:27 05 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:33 30 June 2010

Conservative MPs yesterday stepped up their efforts to try and block any government moves to shake-up councils in Norfolk with a demand that ministers explain in person any decision they make on the floor of the House of Commons.

Conservative MPs yesterday stepped up their efforts to try and block any government moves to shake-up councils in Norfolk with a demand that ministers explain in person any decision they make on the floor of the House of Commons.

Westminster is awash with rumours that the government is all set to grant Norwich its long-held dream of becoming a unitary council, with a decision believed to be imminent.

Yesterday three Norfolk Tory MPs, Keith Simpson, Chloe Smith, and Richard Bacon, moved to try and see off the move at the 11th hour amid mounting speculation that the government has already made up its mind and was likely to produce a written statement announcing its decision in favour of the city and Exeter.

In the Commons Mr Simpson, told Harriet Harman, leader of the house, that a written statement was “unacceptable” and urged her to convince communities secretary John Denham to explain himself before Parliament.

“The minister should come down to the House and explain it as an oral statement,” Mr Simpson said. “Colleagues on all sides of the House feel strongly about this.”

Ms Harman said she would undertake to bring the issue to the attention of the minister to make sure the “right level of accountability” was going to happen.

“Obviously accountability to the House on this issue is very important whether or not by written or oral statement,” she said.

Miss Smith also wrote to Mr Denham urging him to come to Parliament to explain himself, while South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon has written to Peter Housden, the top civil servant in Mr Denham's department asking if he was seeking a “direction” from ministers when the decision is made in the light of concerns about the affordability of the city bid.

Mr Bacon said: “If the civil servants feel it's a waste of money they are legally bound to say so,” he said. “There is a question mark about whether Norwich City Council is a fit body to run a whelk stall.”

A move to grant unitary status to Norwich flies in the face of advice and evidence put forward by the independent Boundary Committee whose preferred option of a single council for the whole of Norfolk. It has also sparked fears that it will also lead to the break-up of vital countywide services for children and older people.

But city council leaders believe they have made the case for change and are hoping they can persuade all sides that home rule for the city will be the best of both worlds for both the city and the county.

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