Local Government Review (Agenda item 6)
To consider any developments.
The Chief Executive provided Members with a presentation on the Norfolk Local Government Review process. Copies of the presentation would be made available for Members subject to permission being granted by the Boundary Committee.
On Wednesday 17 October 2007 Norfolk Leaders and Chief Executives had met with the Boundary Committee to learn about the principles, timetable and procedures for the review.
Any organisation or individual could put forward proposals for change in Norfolk. However, the organisations or individuals must produce hard evidence that the five criteria to bid for unitary status that had been set by Government could be met.
The review would be confined to Norfolk only and any proposals crossing the county boundary would not be considered.
The Boundary Committee was clear that although this would be a challenging time for local government in the county, Norfolk councils should work together as closely as possible in the interests of all its residents.
Work could only start when the current Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill became an Act; however, this was expected to happen within the next few weeks. Councils would then be invited to submit outline proposals that they wished the Boundary Committee to consider by the end of November 2007.
There would then be an involved process of discussion, examination and information before final business cases were submitted in March 2008.
Between March and the beginning of July 2008, the Boundary Committee would carefully consider proposals and agree what recommendations to put out for public consultation during July and August 2008. It would then consider the results before submitting a final recommendation to the Secretary of State in December 2008.
The Secretary of State would then have about four weeks to seek views on the Boundary Committee’s recommendation before a decision could be made, probably in January 2009.
A Memberasked, based on what he had heard during the presentation, why the Council was being forced into Unitary Status, when it was clear that Breckland Council was quite capable of ‘holding its own’. Another Member agreed with the aforementioned comments and felt that Breckland Council should not be dictated to as this Council, in his opinion, was already effective and efficient. He asked how much this review was going to cost. In response, the Chief Executive advised that the Boundary Committee had made it quite clear that if Councils preferred not to be engaged in this process, the process would continue without them. In terms of cost, he could not speculate; the only options available to the Council were to try and engage in the process and try to influence it.
Members were concerned with the costs and felt that the public would not support a change.
Whilst appreciating the Chief Executive’s comments, another Member felt that the term “cost” should be changed to “value”. However, he was concerned that the Council was currently involved in so many other projects such as the Local Area Agreement, Local Development Framework and the Sustainable Communities agenda which were all driving Breckland forward to 2020. He asked whether any of the above issues had been mentioned to the Boundary Committee. The Chief Executive advised that these matters were raised but unfortunately had not been given a very sympathetic ear. He appreciated that there was never a ‘good time’ for such a huge project to happen but it was happening and Breckland would have to ‘step on board’ to try and achieve the best possible solution for Norfolk in the future.
Another Member asked what would happen to the Town Councils if the District Councils should disappear. The Chief Executive advised that the substructure and how it worked would be pivotal to a unitary system.
During the debate the Leader requested that delegated authority be approved for him to promote a unitary proposal for Norfolk Local Government to the Boundary Committee on behalf of Breckland. The timetable for the review required proposals to be submitted by the end of November and the Council did not meet again until 6th December.
RESOLVED that authority be delegated to the Leader to promote a unitary proposal for Norfolk local government to the Boundary Committee on behalf of Breckland Council and that the details be reported to the Council meeting on 6th December 2007.