Unitary bid put on hold

IPSWICH'S bid for unitary status was today sensationally booted into the long grass as the government decided the town was not large enough to run its own affairs.

IPSWICH'S bid for unitary status was today kicked into the long grass at the last minute.

The government was today due to announce the councils which would be given power to run their own affairs, and Ipswich had already been told it was likely to get the go-ahead.

However the applications by both Ipswich and Exeter in the West Country were delayed - with the government saying it needs more time to look at their boundaries.

There was speculation in Whitehall that this could eventually mean the application would be dropped as being too expensive.

The Evening Star understands that a close look at the costs involved in the bids by Ipswich and Exeter raised doubts among the new team at the treasury - and forced the re-think.

Today's news caused anguish in Ipswich council's Grafton House and delight on the other side of Russell Road in the county's Endeavour House headquarters.

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A senior member of staff at the county council said today: “We have four different statements, depending on what the decision is, but the indication we are getting is that there has been a re-think on the unitary decision.”

Since it was announced that Ipswich would probably be getting unitary status in July, officials from the county and borough council have spent hundreds of hours discussing how to separate council functions.

And only yesterday county chief executive Mike More announced he would be moving to Westminster City Council. That is a major promotion for him, but at the time it did look as if he would be leaving a council which was in the process of losing 20 per cent of its population.

The government was making its announcement this afternoon immediately after Prime Minister's Questions.

A senior source from the Tory-led administration at Ipswich said: “It looks like the Boundary Commission will be sent in to look at several unitary options, possibly expanded boundaries, or a unitary Suffolk.

“I think it is a political decision made by Gordon Brown. He bottled out of a general election and with the bad publicity for the Labour party at the moment he thought a unitary Ipswich would not be a winner for his party,”