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Are ministers listening to pleas?

PUBLISHED: 10:05 15 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:18 30 June 2010

Norfolk council leaders fighting over controversial plans to overhaul local government returned from a meeting with ministers yesterday still unsure whether their pleas would fall on deaf ears or not.

Norfolk council leaders fighting over controversial plans to overhaul local government returned from a meeting with ministers yesterday still unsure whether their pleas would fall on deaf ears or not.

Ministers have hosted two days of talks with council leaders starting with Norwich City Council talking to Barbara Follett on Wednesday and concluding yesterday with the six other district council chiefs meeting Rosie Winterton.

Further meetings are planned with Norfolk MPs and peers on Monday, while Tory council leaders also met with shadow local government minister Bob Neill.

Currently the Boundary Committee has recommended scrapping the current system of county and seven district councils in favour of a single super council for the whole of Norfolk, with communities secretary John Denham likely to make a final decision next month.

The independent committee has been swayed by the case and the potential to save £25m a year in red tape and is also convinced that the super council is the way forward at a time councils need to cut costs in the wake of the burgeoning national debt.

But critics feel that a super council would be too large and unworkable and the savings could be delivered by closing working and sharing services.

While the city council, which triggered the original unitary review is pressing the government to go back to its original option, which is still on the table, and grant Norwich home rule while leaving the rest of Norfolk untouched.

The talks came at the end of a week in which civil servants said that elections for a new council could be held in May, while five district councils, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Breckland, Broadland, North Norfolk and South Norfolk, learned that they will be able to challenge the process in the High Court next month.

Nick Daubney, leader of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Council, said the day proved constructive.

“This is not about opposing the idea of unitary local government, this is about opposing the poor presentation made by the Boundary Committee,” Mr Daubney said. “It's a poor recommendation based on outdated information and not taking public opinion or business opinion into account.

“Rosie Winterton allowed us to put our views across, but refused to enter into any discussion or give an opinion,” Mr Daubney said. “We would much rather that they took their time and did a careful job, that's more important. We don't want to rush something through that's half-baked.

“We recognise that in some parts of the country unitary has been welcomed such as large metropolitan areas, but it won't work in a large and diverse county like Norfolk. We made the point strongly that where this has been imposed it's in much smaller areas than Norfolk.”

By contrast Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said he made the point that many of the reasons for rejecting the city's original bid no longer applied because the council had improved its performance.

“We've turned the financial position around, and come up with a response to the recession,” Mr Morphew said. “We've also shown that we can work successfully on cross-border partnerships such as the Greater Norwich Development Partnerhsip.”


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