Town needs independence

THIS month is crucial for the future development of Ipswich - and its relationship with the rest of Suffolk.It is the deadline for the government's department of communities and local government to receive applications from councils who want to change their structures.

TODAY is crucial for the future development of Ipswich - and its relationship with the rest of Suffolk.

It is the deadline for the government's department of communities and local government to receive applications from councils who want to change their structures.

That means Ipswich borough has put in its bid for unitary status - running all the town's local authority services - and the county, backed by other districts and boroughs, has put in a bid for “Pathfinder” status.

That's a complex reorganisation which will see the current system stay in place but with much more co-ordination between councils.

Neither of the options are ideal, but it is quite clear that Suffolk's politicians and the government in Whitehall do not see maintaining the current status quo as a feasible option.

Which means that what the voters are facing is a choice between the imperfect and the undesirable - and in that situation the imperfect has to win.

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The imperfect choice is creating a unitary Ipswich on its current boundaries.

The option is imperfect because Ipswich is much larger than the boundaries that were drawn up in the early years of the last century.

They are not Victorian, as some people claim, because if they were they would not include Whitton - but they do not include large areas which are part of the town. Whether residents of Kesgrave, Pinewood, Warren Heath and Bixley Farm like it or not they are part of Ipswich.

But half a cake is better than no cake at all - and a unitary Ipswich is a better option for the town than the alternative of Suffolk's pathfinder muddle.

That ticks all the wrong boxes - its structure is incomprehensible to most voters, it would concentrate power in the hands of the county council cabinet, and it would turn hundreds of councillors across Suffolk into little more than figureheads in a four-yearly opinion poll on the government's performance.

I don't actually have a problem with the notion of a single-tier council for the whole of Suffolk - apart from Ipswich - but if that is going to happen, let's be clear and honest about it and not disguise what is happening by coming up with incomprehensible titles like pathfinder projects.

But Ipswich needs its own county. A small city (whether or not it has city status) serving an urban area with a population of 250,000 is not best served by a council whose main focus is a rural area with rural problems.

People living in small market towns or villages cannot understand the pressures of those living in town. The fact that the county does not have a single cabinet member from the county's three largest towns speaks volumes.

I have concerns on a small scale about splitting Ipswich from the rest of Suffolk - will people who live in Felixstowe still be able to visit the county library during a shopping trip to Ipswich?

But these concerns are minor in comparison with the big picture.

I still hope that in the long term Ipswich will be able to expand geographically as well as in population terms - the “box” created by the A14/A12 by-pass seems to be a sensible boundary for the town.

However if the government doesn't feel able to do a comprehensive reorganisation of local authorities at the moment then creating a unitary Ipswich is better than the alternative of the pathfinder mess.

YOUNG Jamie McMahon has big political ambitions ahead of him.

At a time when most youngsters are only looking forward to leaving school and having a good time at university, he is already looking forward to a political career by seeking election to the borough.

To be fair it would take something of a political earthquake to see him winning a seat on the borough - he is standing for Labour in a ward that has been solidly Conservative for the last five years.

His opponent will be council leader Liz Harsant who is an experienced political operator, lives in the ward and is very well known.

But you have to start somewhere - and in Jamie's case he really does have nothing to lose.

A young Labour candidate made his name by fighting a parliamentary by-election in a rock-solid Tory seat back in early 1983.

He lost his deposit in Beaconsfield, but made his name and a few months later was chosen to fight the safe Labour seat of Sedgefield in County Durham.

The rest, as they say, is history for Tony Blair.

Whether this year's election will be the start of a glorious political career for Jamie, only time will tell.

But it is refreshing to see a youngster standing for election to the council. Far too many councils have an over-representation of the active pensioners.

To be fair Ipswich is better than many. Some of the top councillors at Grafton House - including Labour leader David Ellesmere, and executive members Paul West and Steve Wells are relatively young.

But too many people wait until they have given up full-time work before they stand for the council - and while they bring great experience to debates, they can be seen as being out of touch with younger voters.

If we want youngsters to vote - which I hope we all do - we have to show them that politics is relevant to them, not just to their parents', or even grandparents', generation.

Jamie's candidacy may help to break down that barrier - but what we really see now is more young people standing in wards where they have a realistic chance of victory.

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