Hopes high of Ipswich independence

BOROUGH bosses in Ipswich were today feeling increasingly hopeful about the chances of the town gaining its independence from Suffolk.Ipswich council is bidding to become a unitary authority, taking over control of services like schools, social services, highways, and libraries from its near neighbours at Suffolk County Council.

By Paul Geater

BOROUGH bosses in Ipswich were today feeling increasingly hopeful about the chances of the town gaining its independence from Suffolk.

Ipswich council is bidding to become a unitary authority, taking over control of services like schools, social services, highways, and libraries from its near neighbours at Suffolk County Council.

The bid was formally handed in to the Department of Communities and Local Government in London last week - and borough chief executive James Hehir spent much of yesterday at Whitehall meetings to discuss it.

He said: “We do feel more confident all the time about our bid. The government has received 26 bids for unitary status from across the country - but some cut across each other so the maximum that could be granted is 18.”

In some places districts or boroughs - like Ipswich - are seeking unitary status while in other places counties are seeking to take over services from smaller authorities.

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In a few places, like Bedfordshire, both the county and the districts are seeking unitary status.

The government had initially indicated that up to eight requests could be granted but in an interview with a national specialist newsletter published today, local government minister Phil Woolas indicated that figure was not written in stone.

He told the magazine Public Servant that bids would be judged on their merits, and would not be restricted to eight bids if there were more high-quality applications than that.

His boss, local government secretary Ruth Kelly, said: "I am pleased to see that these local authorities are keen to improve the services they offer to their communities and welcome the debate which the invitation has generated across the country on this issue.

"We will assess the bids received against the strict criteria as laid out in the invitation, these include an expectation of a broad cross section of local support, increased efficiency gains and all costs arising from reorganisation being met locally without increasing council tax.

“We will announce in March which unitary bids will go forward for stakeholder consultation."

Meanwhile the county council and the other districts in Suffolk have submitted their own proposals for a “pathfinder” project which would see them co-operating more closely but stopping short of a full merger.

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