We need an election . . . next year

WE MAY not be facing a general election next month, but it is absolutely vital that the voters of Ipswich go to the polls next May to elect a shadow authority to take over the following year.

WE MAY not be facing a general election next month, but it is absolutely vital that the voters of Ipswich go to the polls next May to elect a shadow authority to take over the following year.

When we went to the polls in 2004 it was to elect councillors to serve a four-year term.

Unlike parliamentary elections, local councillors serve a fixed term. We didn't elect councillors in 2004 thinking they may be in post for five years and it is outrageous that the administration should be trying to extend their term.

Leading members of the borough apparently feel that the new authority taking over services in 2009 should be elected then and that there is no point in electing 16 councillors to serve only one year on the existing authority next May.

I've heard some opposition councillors have pointed out that there could be some sinister undertone to this - many of those due up for election next May are leading councillors whose seats do not look too safe.

Knowing the people involved, I really don't see anything sinister about the attempt to put off the poll - but I don't think they thought through all the implications.

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When there has been local government reorganisation in this country in the past there has always been a period of “shadow” authorities as councillors get used to their new responsibilities before taking over control.

Extending a term of office for 16 councillors by a year is a major constitutional issue. It is not the same as extending a term of office by a month if the country is hit by foot-and-mouth disease or to ensure local polls are held on the same day as the European elections.

Another key issue is that the new authority that comes into existence in May 2009 will technically not be the same body as the existing Ipswich Borough Council. Senior officers will have to be appointed to the new body, especially to those departments which it will be taking over from the county council.

Who will make those appointments if there is no shadow authority?

The councillors we have elected to the current borough were voted in to run planning, housing, rubbish collection, the parks and the theatres. They were not elected to pick education chiefs, social services bosses, and run libraries.

Before there can be any legitimate appointments to these services in Ipswich, there has to be a democratic election. All these points will be quickly spotted by the government in Whitehall and will almost certainly scupper the council's desire to put off the elections.

So the local election campaign of May 2008 should be very lively in Ipswich.

IT is good to see that French-owned energy giant EDF Energy is talking about building a new generation of nuclear power stations in this country.

While nuclear energy has its problems - especially what to do with the waste - I remain convinced that nuclear generation has to be part of the overall power picture in this country.

It produces far less carbon dioxide - in fact it's almost carbon neutral - than burning fossil fuels and it is far more reliable than wind or solar power.

It does, however, require a massive initial capital investment to get nuclear power stations up and running.

That means that only the largest companies can consider building new nuclear stations.

British Energy owns and operates most of the nuclear plants currently in operation, but that has had financial difficulties as the government's attitude to nuclear power has yo-yoed and it would have difficulty in raising the cash for a big new investment in the industry.

But EDF has the financial might of a French nationalised industry behind - not to mention the experience of building and operating 58 nuclear power stations across the Channel.

A partnership between the two companies, or even an EDF solo effort, could give the nuclear industry a real boost.

And that could be good for Suffolk - bringing more highly-skilled, well-paid, jobs to the Sizewell area and ensuring that those people who do work there have secure jobs over the next few decades.

SO how badly damaged has Gordon Brown been, by the general election that never was?

In the short term I think he's been made to look foolish and indecisive. The polls will certainly reflect that over the next few weeks and I expect to the see the Tories roaring ahead.

But by the time the next election is called between June 2009 and May 2010, I expect there will be many more important issues for voters to consider.

If the economy is going well at that time, will anyone really be thinking: “I would vote for Gordon Brown, but he bottled it in October 2007?”

Anyone who tells the pollsters that is the case is being as economical with the truth as the prime minister was when he said the opinion polls had nothing to do with his decision!

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