Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Summary of "Best for the West"...

The draft concept statement is now available via the link I posted yesterday. The following is a summary:

Background to the Local Government Review

The Boundary Committee for England (part of the Electoral Commission) has been asked by the Government to review the structure of local government in Suffolk and Norfolk. It will provide advice on future options for unitary government – that is, one local authority providing all the services currently delivered by district, borough and county councils. Options could include, for example, a unitary authority for the whole of Suffolk; one for Ipswich and then the rest of Suffolk; or one which puts Waveney (Lowestoft area) together with Great Yarmouth. The Boundary Committee has asked for concept statements, setting out ideas for unitary government throughout Suffolk, to be submitted by 11 April. Keeping the structure the same is not an option being explored.

The option which St Edmundsbury (along with some other councils across Suffolk) is suggesting to the Boundary Committee is for a unitary which covers West Suffolk, with another for the East (and potentially a third one for Ipswich). We believe that this offers the best solution for everyone in Suffolk.

Why West Suffolk?

There are two issues:

a unitary covering the whole county could find it difficult to balance the needs of such a wide area and range of different communities (from large urban centres needing major regeneration to market towns protecting their local economies and tiny rural hamlets looking to preserve their identities). A West Suffolk unitary would be big enough to operate at a strategic and financial level, but small enough to be close to its local communities at parish or neighbourhood levels.

the whole economy of West Suffolk is distinctly different to East Suffolk. While the east has its focus on issues such as urban regeneration, coastal erosion, and major ports, West Suffolk is very Cambridge-focused. Whether it's housing, tourism, business, technology, environment or growth the drive in this part of the county is from the west, with Stansted to the south also providing strong economic opportunities.

St Edmundsbury concept statement summary

1) Making sense

The concept statement acknowledges that the time is right for a change in the shape of local government in Suffolk. One authority is simpler for people to understand and makes it easier to deliver services. But bigger isn't always better. While there are economies of scale in larger organisations there are also risks, such as losing touch with local communities who want to see their Council Tax spent on their local priorities. A West Suffolk unitary would be big enough to make significant savings and take strategic decisions, but small enough to connect with the interests of its local communities.

2) Strategic leadership, meeting local needs

The success of any local authority depends on the success it has in engaging people throughout the geographic area it covers, whether in urban neighbourhoods or rural parishes, or in communities of interest such as town centre businesses or migrant workers. A West Suffolk unitary would have community engagement at its heart, with local people involved with their councillors in setting priorities and designing the services, within local budgets, they want for their areas. Scrutiny – to check arrangements are working well at local levels and with partners in areas such as the health sector – coming from a number of panels and committees. Overseeing all this would be the strategic level of decision-making, provided by a Leader and Cabinet.

3) Delivering in West Suffolk now

Close working between councils is already operating in West Suffolk, with both St Edmundsbury Borough and Suffolk County councils set to move into one building, West Suffolk House, on the Public Service Village site in Bury St Edmunds. There are also numerous partnerships which operate now across district council boundaries.

4) Delivering the future in Suffolk

The concept statement suggests that a West Suffolk unitary would be complemented by a similar unitary covering East Suffolk (with or without a separate unitary for Ipswich). As has been shown elsewhere in the country, each would have the necessary critical mass when it came to population, geography, economy and working patterns. And each would be able to focus on what matters most to their own communities. From an economic perspective, West Suffolk's present and future is around sustainability and meeting the demands of a fast-growing Cambridge economy. Cambridge looks to its hinterland to provide land and premises for developing high-tech businesses, bringing jobs and associated housing and other facilities into the area.

5) Affording the future

The main challenges for a new unitary are to achieve value for money, ensure that existing services are enhanced, not compromised and engage local people in deciding what services they want. A West Suffolk unitary would save money by combining district services. There would be a cost of splitting ('disaggregating') current county council services, although many of these are already managed on an east/west basis. There will be also be opportunities to combine assets, services and management more cost effectively. The figures we have analysed from successful unitary bids elsewhere in the country indicate that delivering services to a population of around 200,000 to 250,000 would enable West Suffolk to achieve significant economies of scale, without reducing the ability to keep high quality services which put customers first. The Boundary Committee has specifically stated it is not looking for detailed figures of these costs at this stage – that level of detail would come later in the consultation process.

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