Leaders of Norwich City Council will protest in the strongest possible terms to the coalition government after it made clear its intention to stop the creation of a new unitary council for the city.
In its programme for government published today, it has pledged to ‘stop the restructuring of councils in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon’ and is now expected to introduce the necessary legislation in Parliament to ensure this happens.
Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green members of the city council continue to be committed to a new unitary Norwich council and will make their feelings clear to the newly-formed government.
The government has created an awkward position for the council as the structural orders for the implementation of the unitary council are still in place and it has a duty to carry out that work and to an extremely tight timetable. The council will urgently be seeking clarification from the department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) as to how it wants it to proceed.
In the meantime, it will be reviewing its existing work programme and planned activities to avoid unnecessary costs and has already put on hold the recruitment of a chief executive and strategic directors for the new council.
Councillor Steve Morphew, leader of the city council, said: “The leaders of three of the political groups on Norwich City Council are united in their support for a new unitary for Norwich and a belief that one authority providing all key services in the city is the best way forward. They do not understand how this fits with the government’s stated ambitions to ‘give communities more power’ and ‘transfer power from central to local government’ and will be making their protests known.
“What I would say is that our unitary preparation work has already been put to good use over the last few years, and has formed the basis of our neighbourhood working focus, cost reduction, our efficiency and improvement drive, strengthening our understanding of needs within the city area, and improving our profile in partnership discussions and negotiations.”
Councillor Claire Stephenson, leader of the Green Party group on the city council, said: “I’m surprised the new government does not want to make the savings that will come with a new unitary council. Halting the process would disappoint a lot of Norwich residents, many of whom recently voted for candidates who support unitary status for Norwich.
“Surely given the current economic climate, a new government would have bigger priorities than denying people in Norwich the opportunity to be in control of their own city.”
Councillor Brian Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: "I am extremely disappointed at the turn of events. Although there are clearly some good measures being proposed, this seems to contradict what has been said with regard to devolving power from the centre down to local councils."
20 May 2010