Region faces more uncertainty

AFTER four years and dozens of delays, tens of thousands of public servants across East Anglia are today still left wondering what kind of future they face.

AFTER four years and dozens of delays, tens of thousands of public servants across East Anglia are today still left wondering what kind of future they face.

And millions of residents still don't know which council will provide their services in the future.

The future of local government in Suffolk has been thrown into confusion following the Government's decision to extend public consultations on unitary councils until July.

Thousands of pounds and hundreds of man hours have been spent working on the plans - but Suffolk County Council and the seven district councils are now left uncertain how to plan for the future.

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More than �200,000 has been spent preparing for plans, which were first announced in 2005, but Ipswich Borough Council said all work would now be suspended until July at the earliest.

Council leader Liz Harsant said: “I am bitterly disappointed at the Secretary of State's decision.

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“We have spent hundreds of hours working on preparations for the North Haven authority and it is devastating to find that there is yet more delay. We will spend no further time or money on unitary proposals until we hear in July what the final recommendation is.”

Councils in Suffolk have spent the past seven months working on the Boundary Committee for England's (BCE) preliminary proposals for two unitary councils in Suffolk.

One would cover Ipswich, Felixstowe and surrounding parishes while the other would be a Suffolk Rural authority responsible for an area stretching from Sudbury, Haverhill, Woodbridge and Southwold.

A final recommendation from the BCE was due to be published this Friday with the Secretary of State Hazel Blears making a decision in March.

But following a High Court judgement the date has been put back to July 15.

If Ms Blears does accept the proposals elections for the new authorities will be held in May 2010 - quite probably on the same day as a general election.

But it will be another year before the councils would start operating. But one MP warned that even if Ms Blears does accept the proposals, the local Government reorganisation still may not happen.

Suffolk South MP Tim Yeo, said: “Any slippage in the timetable increases the likelihood of nothing happening.

“Hazel Blears knows that these proposals are not widely supported in Suffolk. I favour the status quo and if there is a General Election before the unitary councils are up and running and the Conservatives win, then local government reorganisation is unlikely to happen.”

The decision means that 22 councils in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk, about 150,000 staff and 2 million people are left waiting to see what form of local government they will have.

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