Councils go to war over status

IF YOU'RE going anywhere near Russell Road, take your tin hat with you! Near total warfare is today breaking out between Endeavour House and Grafton House over the future of local authorities in Suffolk.

IF YOU'RE going anywhere near Russell Road, take your tin hat with you.

Their headquarters may be opposite each other, but near total warfare is today breaking out between county and borough councils over the future of the Suffolk's local government.

The government is considering whether to allow some large towns and cities to run their own affairs, free from county council control, and Ipswich has joined a consortium of cities to try to press the claim for unitary status.

However Suffolk County Council is determined that the present two-tier structure should remain and has joined with other counties to try to block the proposals.

The latest battle is being fought over a new report that has been commissioned from Cambridge academic Michael Chisholm by the County Councils Network (CCN).

This has concluded that it could cost between £100 and £121 for every council tax-payer in Ipswich if the borough was turned into a unitary council.

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The report was produced in response to a report commissioned by four councils - Ipswich, Norwich, Exeter, and Oxford - from the Institute of Local Government Studies at Birmingham University which is due to be published later this month.

Ipswich Borough Council leader Liz Harsant today had Endeavour House firmly in her sights - even though it is run by fellow Conservatives and her husband is a member of the county council.

She said: “I am really quite annoyed by this. How much has the county spent on this research when it is cutting back on help for vulnerable people?

“The government has made it quite clear that we will not be allowed to press ahead with unitary status if there is any cost to council taxpayers, so these arguments are totally wrong.”

Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said his authority was keen to present all the facts to the people of Ipswich.

He said: “If there is to be reorganisation like this there will be a cost which cannot be passed on to council taxpayers or through a sale of assets - it will have to come from further cuts to services.”

But at least there should be harmony in the Harsant household. Mrs Harsant's husband Russell is the Conservative county councillor for Bixley - the only Tory from Ipswich at Endeavour House.

He has broken ranks with his county group over the issue. He told the Star: “I've always been in favour of unitary status for Ipswich and having seen the county from the inside I don't think there's much there that the borough couldn't do better for the town.”