A Norfolk-wide unitary 'too big'

Laura Bagshaw RESIDENTS in the borough of Great Yarmouth could have their council tax cut by £29 a year under plans to create a super unitary council covering the whole of Norfolk and Lowestoft.

Laura Bagshaw

RESIDENTS in the borough of Great Yarmouth could have their council tax cut by £29 a year under plans to create a super unitary council covering the whole of Norfolk and Lowestoft.

As councils continue to examine three unitary options for Norfolk laid down by the Boundary Committee for England, Norfolk County Council reckons a single unitary is the best way forward with predicted savings of £24.59m a year, which they say could be used to improve services and make cuts in council tax.

But leader of Yarmouth Borough Council, Barry Coleman, branded the single unitary option a mini European Union.

He said: “It will be far too big, like a mini European Union and we all complain about that and that it is non-democratic. and I think that is the danger with this unitary. I'm not criticising the county council as it is only looking at things from its point of view, as we are.”

Mr Coleman said the borough council had published a brief document outlining benefits a “wedge” authority would bring to Yarmouth - an option also supported by the council's Labour group.

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He said the brief contained no figures on changes in council tax - saying at this stage it would be misleading to do so.

Mr Coleman added the council believed the two council “wedge” option: a unitary made up of Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft and another council covering the rest of Norfolk, would provide residents with more democratic accountability.

The case carried out by the county council into the financial implications of a single new council for Norfolk - the boundary Committee's preferred option - show that most Norfolk residents would see a drop in their council tax.

More than 634,000 people living in Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Broadland, South Norfolk, North Norfolk and Norwich, would benefit under plans to create a single authority.

Residents in Yarmouth would see council tax decrease per year by £29; Waveney's would drop by £12, Broadland by £1 and North Norfolk by £22.

The single council case assumes about 530 jobs would go - 160 of those accounted through natural wastage.

Staff in schools across Norfolk would be unaffected by the changes.

The projected £24.59m savings is almost double what it costs the county council to run its 47 libraries and 15 mobile libraries each year.

David White, chief executive of Norfolk County Council, said: “Clearly, the level of council tax would be for members of the new authority to decide. But our work clearly demonstrates that with projected annual savings of £24.59m, they are able to reduce the overall tax burden by over £5m a year and still be able to invest more in improving public services.”

Meanwhile, residents across Yarmouth borough are being asked for their views on proposed changes to local government.

Draft proposals on the table include a single council covering Norfolk, including Lowestoft, and the “wedge” option, a unitary council made up of Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft, taking in parts of Broadland.

To comment on the proposals fill in the online form at http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/boundary- or write to Review Manager (Norfolk or Suffolk Review), The Boundary Committee for England, Trevelyan House, Great Peter Street, London, SW1P 2HW, or email reviews@boundarycommittee.org.uk.

Consultation ends on September 26 although the committee will consider responses made after that date.