As you were…three new unitaries cancelled

Labour’s plan to replace the existing councils in Exeter, Norwich and Suffolk with new unitary authorities has been cancelled by the coalition government.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles today announced that the existing local government structures would remain.

The argument for the decision seems to be that the move to unitaries didn’t have the support of the local populations, two didn’t have the support of the independent boundaries commission and they were going to cause a lot of hassle for very little savings.

The real meat on this story looks to be down in note 4 to editors from the press release:

4. Implementing these unitary proposals was estimated to involve £40m restructuring costs to be incurred up to 2014-15. In that period, it was forecast that savings of £39.4m could also be achieved. From 2015-16 annual savings of £6.5m were forecast. Councils should be able to make savings of this scale and more including through sensible co-operation between each other and with partners, without the need for any reorganisation.

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  • I can say that, as an old exonian that unitary status for Exeter DID have the support of the population – and the business community, and the local tories, and the local Lib Dems, in fact a very united. The people who were opposed to this were the tories and lib Dems on the County Council who were going to lose Exeter.

    This is the first time Exeter has bid for unitary status, and it won’t be the last. As for the arguments about Exeter being too small, I am (just) old enough to remember 1974, when Exeter lost it status as a County Borough, and became the lower tier in a two tier council.

    So much for giving power back to the people and devolving decisions down.

  • Ray Cobbett 27th May '10 - 8:57am

    No doubt there are local factors in this decision from Pickles. But I hope the coalition will look critically at the function and working of local government. Firstly PR is needed to break up the one-party towns such as the one I live in. Next, fewer councils and councillors would be welcome to reduce the costs of elections , allowances and attract brighter ( younger) candidates. Many council groups resemble day care centres for the elderly ( I’m 70 and a former councillor) and are completely unrepresentative of even the minority who elect them. Dave’s Big Society
    is largely a fiction and is no substitute for real democracy.

  • It’s not the first time Exeter has bid to be a unitary – they did in the Tories’ round in the 90s, they did in the last Govt’s round of unitaries, and then they had another bash in John Denham’s pre-election giveaway. Like Oxford, they need to accept they are too small to be an effective unitary.

  • @John Ruddy. Problem is it left the rest of Devon unviable. You only have to look at Torbay to see small unitary councils aren’t the answer. Yes Exeter was a county borough before 1974, so was Bradninch until 1870! “Brandninch was a borough-town t’when Exeter was a grassy down”

  • Can someone explain this to an outsider? What is a unitary authority and what would this change have entailed for Exeter, Norwich and Suffolk?

  • Thanks Iain,

    Two levels of local government sounds inefficient and a bit less accountable to me. But I’ll defer to others’ expertise.

    Couldn’t they just have a referendum and let locals decide?

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