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Council believes system can improve

PUBLISHED: 09:51 04 August 2008 | UPDATED: 11:31 03 July 2010

A NORFOLK council facing extinction is to make the financial case for improving the two-tier system after concerns about the costs and democratic accountability of proposals to create new unitary authorities.

A NORFOLK council facing extinction is to make the financial case for improving the two-tier system after concerns about the costs and democratic accountability of proposals to create new unitary authorities.

Broadland District Council will hold a special meeting tomorrow night to consider the three proposals put forward by the Boundary Committee.

Currently the committee favours creating a new all-Norfolk council which includes Lowestoft but has also said there is merit in looking at a proposal for a 'wedge' of Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft and a 'doughnut' of greater Norwich and the rest of Norfolk.

But a council report raised fears that the single-council option would not be able to respond to the needs of town and parish councils, and questioned the democratic accountability of 21 proposed community partnership boards - groupings of parish and town councils whose members would include representatives from the police, health service, and local schools.

It also rejected the case for both the doughnut and the wedge and said neither of those authorities would have the muscle to deliver schemes such as the Norwich northern bypass while there were also concerns about the impact on contracts for schools and council IT services.

Council leader Simon Woodbridge said the authority was planning to dust down a previous Norfolk local government association report which demonstrated how councils could deliver substantial savings by sharing services such as human resources, planning and building control, without the need for a costly overhaul. Many councils already do this and ministers have already rejected a previous bid by Suffolk County Council for an enhanced status quo model in favour of looking at unitaries.

But Mr Woodbridge said the experience of other areas, such as Northumberland, which was also looking to switch to a unitary, showed that the costs of any overhaul were set to be far higher than originally estimated, while the savings did not justify the pain.

“We don't have any confidence in what's there now,” he said. “We've blasted some big holes in the doughnut and wedge proposals, and there is some concern about the engagement models being put forward in the single unitary bid,” he said. “We want to look very carefully at an enhanced status quo, so by the time December 31 gets here we can make that case to the minister. We have got to convince people that that is the best outcome.”

Mr Woodbridge said he had been appalled at the process which had set councils against each other.

“To some extent everybody is riding two horses,” he said. “We recognise that if the minister has got the power to reorganise Norfolk, it's down to us to realise that whatever she or he is signing has got the best chance of success.”

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