Unitary power to the people

Laura Bagshaw RESIDENTS in the Great Yarmouth borough will have a bigger say on how local services are run and how they rate them in a new unitary authority, according to a council chief.

Laura Bagshaw

RESIDENTS in the Great Yarmouth borough will have a bigger say on how local services are run and how they rate them in a new unitary authority, according to a council chief.

As the time draws nearer for a decision on how to carve up the county into new unitary authorities Jane Ratcliffe, the council's executive director of resources, reckons a new authority would give people an enhanced role in local matters.

In April, after weeks of evaluating various options the council laid its cards on the table, revealing its preferred option for Norfolk as the so-called 'nutcracker' model including authorities of Greater Norwich, Rural Norfolk and Norfolk Coastal.

“There is a lot of sense to the model we have proposed,” said Mrs Ratcliffe.

She said it is the “optimum” model in terms of population sizes - with all three new councils having similar population sizes.

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A Rural Norfolk council would have a population of about 318,000 while Greater Norwich would have 220,000 and Norfolk Coastal would come in at roughly 278,000.

“Greater Norwich is a growth area and we expect the population to grow by 50,000 in the next five to 10 years,” said Mrs Ratcliffe.

As a result she was confident no unitary would be “swallowed up” by one dominating authority.

Ministers instructed the Boundary Committee to review local government in Norfolk following a failed unitary bid by Norwich City Council last year. Under the proposals the current two tier structure of county and distract councils would be scrapped in favour of a one-size-fits all unitary authority.

While these authorities will become responsible for all services - such as transport, planning, environment and highways - Mrs Ratcliffe said it didn't mean the end of council's working together.

She explained: “The councils would still work together to deliver certain services where appropriate. For example, it would make economic sense to deliver highways on a county wide service whereas children's services would be better handled by each individual authority. These three areas are totally different - Thetford is very different to Yarmouth.”

Mrs Ratcliffe said that while Yarmouth doesn't have a lot in common with Sheringham the areas did suffer similar problems such as coastal deprivation and coastal erosion, which she believes could handled better under one roof.

She added tourism could be better marketed under one authority including Yarmouth, the Broads and North Norfolk.

“We want people who live here to have more influence of services. This model has been based on safer neighbourhoods where local people have the opportunity to have an input.”

Mrs Ratcliffe said the role of parish council's would be “enhanced” under a unitary umbrella which opened the door for new community forums. She also accepted that town council's would be established in Yarmouth and Gorleston.

“There would be more opportunity for people to improve their neighbourhood and work with the council,” said Mrs Ratcliffe.

And while Mrs Ratcliffe said unitary authorities would save money it was unlikely that residents would see a cut in their council tax instead getting more “value for their money and improved services”.

Under proposals staff currently employed by the borough council would simply transfer to a new authority although job cuts are expected at senior levels.

The model is a joint proposal from the borough council, Breckland District and North Norfolk District Council. Five suggestions of how to carve up Norfolk have been submitted to the Boundary Committee with options ranging from having one massive council to having four smaller versions.

Labour party groups in Norfolk and Suffolk also submitted a bid to the Boundary Committee calling for a Yarmouth and Waveney unitary.

The Boundary Committee is considering the options and will instruct local authorities of its favoured options next month.