We need a super council for Norfolk - claim

Shaun LowthorpeThe government must 'forge ahead' with controversial plans for a super council for Norfolk to spare households from 'really significant' cuts in public services in the coming years.Shaun Lowthorpe

The government must "forge ahead" with controversial plans for a super- council for Norfolk to spare households from "really significant" cuts in public services in the coming years.

That is the view of police and health chiefs who have written to ministers strongly urging them to back the case to scrap the current set-up of district and county councils in favour of one authority for the whole county.

With county council leader Daniel Cox putting forward plans for a �25.6m cut in public services as part of the first steps to ward off a predicted �115m shortfall in government funding while also freezing council tax in two of the next three years, there is a growing feeling that the single county option which will save around �25m a year by cutting red tape and duplication and ploughing the cash back into frontline services is a "no-brainer".

In a letter to the government, Stephen Bett, chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, and also a senior member of the Conservative administration at County Hall, said local and central government owed it to the people of Norfolk to have the "vision and courage" to seize the opportunity, particularly given the scale of cuts all public bodies are facing.

"The creation of a single unitary local government structure in Norfolk is the right thing to do," said Mr Bett. "If anything, it is long overdue. It is the role of government to take the difficult, sometimes unpopular, strategic decisions.

"Otherwise we would be effectively surrendering ourselves to an overall and unnecessary reduction in the services that we provide for the people of Norfolk merely to preserve outmoded structures."

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Sheila Childerhouse, chairman of NHS Norfolk, and also a Conservative, said it was the "overwhelming preference" of health chiefs to see a single unitary, particularly as the unprecedented deterioration in the economy was putting a strain on public finances for health and social care at a time when demand was increasing.

District councils, which believe that closer working could deliver the same level of savings without the costs of an overhaul, have vowed to fight any changes, with five authorities launching another legal challenge to try to derail the process. Shadow local government minister Bob Neill is also promising to scrap the process if the Tories win the next election.

Former Conservative county council leader John Alston told the government that a single unitary council would at a stroke "remove the protectionism and organisational self-interest that all too often get in the way of rational and sensible progress and cost-savings for the taxpayer.

"To my knowledge, councils in Norfolk have been talking about sharing services and management arrangements for many years but delivered little or nothing," he added.

Meanwhile, former police chief constable Ian McPherson, who carried out a similar overhaul of the force on county lines to free up more police on the front line also wrote to the government urging it not to be swayed by arguments that the costs of the overhaul would be prohibitive.

"In the short term, this position would be na�ve as the costs could be recouped quickly," said Mr McPherson. "In times of financial constraint, it would be prudent to forge ahead as, in the medium to longer term, affordability could well be an issue, and thus the only way that… councils could deliver a balanced budget would be by making really significant cuts to the services they provide for the public.

"Investment now in unitary local government would undoubtedly deliver major returns, mitigating the risk that the public sector in Norfolk as whole will inevitably face in the coming years."

Communities secretary John Denham is due to announce his verdict next month on whether to press ahead with the proposal which was recommended by the independent Boundary Committee.