Final tug for who'll run Ipswich

WITH less than a month to go until the deadline for feedback on Ipswich's bid to go it alone the main players in the unitary battle have taken their positions for the final heave.

WITH less than a month to go until the deadline for feedback on Ipswich's bid to go it alone the main players in the unitary battle have taken their positions for the final heave.

Political reporter NEIL PUFFETT examines the tug of war that is being waged, as Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council attempt to curry our favour.

TAKE the strain… steady… pull!

The tug of war for the hearts and minds of Ipswich residents has well and truly begun in the battle for home rule in the town.

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With the public consultation into whether Ipswich should go it alone currently underway, both the borough council and county council have set out their stalls and dug their heels in for the stamina-sapping battle.

Gripping the rope with passion at one end is borough council leader Liz Harsant who argues unitary status will allow Ipswich to forge ahead as a major business and cultural centre in the East of England.

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Heading up the other side is Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke who is refusing to be budged from the view that - in the words of the old proverb - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Both captains, each backed up by scores of councillors and officers, are set to sweat it out as they attempt to heave public opinion in their favour.

The epic contest is set to continue for close to a month, until the consultation deadline of June 22.

A final decision on whether Ipswich is given unitary status will be taken in early July.

Publicly at least, the pair claim the competitive struggle to convince people of their cases will not sour relations in the corridors of power.

However, privately, strains have started to show as each side struggles to gain vital inches in the continuing campaign.

The county council has already attracted the wrath of Liz Harsant who said she was “appalled” by comments from Suffolk councillor Joanna Spicer that residents could become vulnerable to diseases and emergencies if the status quo changes.

Meanwhile the county council has unveiled its official response to the unitary bid.

The 60-page report methodically runs through arguments against Ipswich governing all services itself.

Liz said she is confident feedback will be in favour of the borough council's case.

She said: “We have gone out of our way to consult properly with stakeholders so they are all aware of what we are trying to aim for which is for a better Ipswich.

“I think we have to say that if 13 county councillors representing Ipswich have thrown their weight behind this bid it is a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas.

“Some would maybe come into a unitary council but more than half would not be councillors anymore.

“Despite this they are still prepared to put Ipswich before their own political ambitions.”

Jeremy said that one of the county council's key arguments is that the authority is already performing at four-star level.

He said: “I really don't see how it is going to benefit the wider community of Suffolk.

“We currently deliver 70 per cent of services in Ipswich and we are a four-star authority that is seen to be improving.

“Why would you want to change that?

The stage is set for the final tug in the ongoing war.

n> Are you convinced by the argument for unitary status? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

n>Anyone who would like to make their views known can respond to the Department for Communities and Local Government by e-mailing or by post to: Unitary Structures Consultation Team, Zone 5/E8, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

Ipswich Borough Council's view - By leader of Ipswich Borough Council Liz Harsant

“Ipswich wants to create a unitary council to deliver all local government services in the town, replacing the current two-tier system. We believe that this will cut confusion, cut duplication and cut waste. It will also mean better vale for money services.

“Most of England is already run by single councils. It works well in towns like Luton, Reading and Southend. We believe it will work well here, too.

“The cost of establishing a new council will be repaid within four years at no cost to the council tax-payer. This was a condition of our bid and we would not have gone through to the next round if there was any doubt about this. Ipswich had to submit its case for scrutiny by the Department for Communities & Local Government and the Treasury. It's financial case has also been checked by the Audit Commission. Suffolk County Council's figures have not been checked by anyone.

“The money required for establishing a new Council will be found by smarter spending and reducing duplication. A unitary council will also bring savings to council tax. So, claims that council tax will have to go up to pay for a unitary Ipswich council are not true.

“A key part of our bid rests on the stark difference between urban Ipswich and its rural county. Ipswich is the fastest growing centre in the East of England and a major regional centre for business, culture, shopping and sport. Its population has soared to 128,000 and will exceed 150,000 in the next 14 years.

“Ipswich faces typically urban challenges: crime, anti-social behaviour, drugs, ill-health and educational under-achievement. Ipswich is losing out - its needs submerged by the rural needs of a rural county. We want our own voice - and don't forget more than 60 languages are spoken in Ipswich.

“Finally, not one member of the present Administration on Suffolk County Council lives in Ipswich - So we want a Council run for and by Ipswich people.”

Suffolk County Council's view - By leader of Suffolk County Council Jeremy Pembroke

What exactly is the problem that this unitary proposal is trying to fix? We agree that Ipswich needs a stronger voice, but not at the expense of multi-million pound bills for change and the real risk of reductions in services.

This unitary proposal seeks to do away with councils in Ipswich that are officially rated excellent or good and create something new. We know that people are interested in high quality services, not council structures. It is not a good use of taxpayers' money to divert spending from frontline services to pay for this change, and the extra management and bureaucracy to go with it.

Our calculations show it would cost £43million of taxpayers' money over five years to change the council structures in Ipswich. Money that will have to come from increased council taxes, or reductions in services.

We care passionately about Ipswich as our county town, as much as we care passionately about the whole of our wonderful county.

You would not buy a house without getting a survey and without checking you can afford it. So you shouldn't make a big decision for Ipswich and Suffolk without testing and challenging it.

Where is the evidence that this is what the people of Ipswich want? Where is the evidence that this will deliver better services at a lower cost?

We can only hope that the final decision, made by the government, is based on the facts, and is made in the best interests of the people of Ipswich and Suffolk.

For us, the facts speak for themselves. This unitary proposal is not in the best interests of the people of Ipswich and Suffolk.

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