Tory vow over super council

Conservative high command has given its strongest commitment yet that a David Cameron-led government would torpedo any council overhaul in Norfolk and Suffolk, raising the prospect that the millions spent so far would simply be poured down the drain.

Conservative high command has given its strongest commitment yet that a David Cameron-led government would torpedo any council overhaul in Norfolk and Suffolk, raising the prospect that the millions spent so far would simply be poured down the drain.

Shadow local government minister Bob Neill said the Tories would give a manifesto commitment to overturn any plans to replace the current set-up of seven districts and the county council with a unitary structure - even if the government went with plans to elect a new unitary authority in May.

The move raises the strange prospect for democracy that voters would go to the polls to elect a new council which could be immediately scrapped.

The so-called super council option is the front runner to replace the existing system, though communities secretary John Denham, who is set to give his verdict in February, could decide to do nothing or revive a previously rejected option to grant a unitary council for Norwich alone.


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Previously the Tories said in their “returning power to local communities” policy document last year they would only scrap the process if the necessary changes had not gone through parliament.

But Mr Neill said such was the concern locally about the process and fears the government were determined to press ahead regardless that it was important for an incoming Conservative administration to give a clear statement of intent and ease the fears of councils worried that ministers would try to railroad a unitary proposal through parliament in the dying days of the Labour government.

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“We think the degree of disruption that would be caused by going ahead with this is potentially so great that we will reverse it, even if they manage to pass the necessary secondary legislation before the general election,” Mr Neill said.

“If that requires the necessary steps we can take them and we can spell this out in our election manifesto so our commitment in constitutional terms is clear.

“We think it's disgraceful to railroad this through. They have come up with schemes that frankly please nobody. Sometimes you have to take the practical view because the wider disruption this would cause would be too great.”

Currently the government is consulting on a proposal for a single Norfolk super council, which has been recommended by the independent Boundary Committee.

The committee has been swayed by the case, ironically put forward by Norfolk County Council, that the new council could save �25m a year by cutting red tape and duplication alone while also giving more power to grassroots communities and parish councils.

But the option has been widely condemned by district politicians, while County Hall has adopted a 'neutral' stance and will not lobby the government in favour of the proposal - opting instead to provide �10,000 towards a last ditch legal challenge by five district councils, due to be heard next month to kill the process.

Mr Neill said the Boundary Committee had produced a “flawed” set of proposals on financial information that was three years out of date.

“They haven't done any proper consultation or produced any evidence that there is any kind of taste for this within Norfolk or any other counties involved,” Mr Neill said. “Even if they were to try and cobble together having an election on May 6 nobody pretends realistically that they will have these local authorities up and running in any practical terms.

“We think it's perfectly possible if we signal this now as a warning and encouragement to people. I just hope the government will see reason. There are other ways of achieving and efficiency where Norfolk has a good track record with its shared services arrangement.”

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