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Poll: New report by Michael Heseltine re-ignites debate over possible home rule for Norwich

PUBLISHED: 08:44 31 October 2012

Lord Heseltine published his long awaited report today.

Lord Heseltine published his long awaited report today.

The debate over whether Norwich should be run by a unitary council was re-ignited today after a major government report recommended abolishing district authorities.

No Stone Unturned, written by Conservative heavyweight Michael Heseltine, said district councils should go to save money and make local government easier for business to deal with.

Leader of Norwich City Council Brenda Arthur said she was “delighted” at the report, but Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, suggested Lord Heseltine’s plans would never be realised.

“Neither ourselves or the party nationally have any plans to implement these ideas,” he said.

Lord Heseltine also said £60bn should be stripped from Whitehall departments and handed to business-led bodies like New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to help them boost economic growth locally.

Analysis - By Dan Grimmer, Public Affairs Correspondent

Lord Heseltine’s proposals – and its focus on unitary councils – re-opens one of the biggest controversies to hit local government in Norfolk in recent years.

But council leaders today were, perhaps predictably, split on whether they would be happy to see the debate re-opened.

Councils were invited, way back in 2006, to submit proposals for restructuring and Norwich City Council, was quick to get in a bid.

The council wanted to take on responsibility from Norfolk County Council for providing services such as education and social services within the city’s boundaries, the argument being that it would mean greater accountability and savings.

But, in an attempt to counter Norwich’s bid Norfolk County Council submitted their own proposal for a unitary, claiming that would deliver much greater savings, while the city’s bid would see higher council tax bills.

That led to bad blood not only between the city council and the county council, but also between the county and other district councils, which were at risk of vanishing if unitary status was awarded to County Hall.

The city seemed to have emerged victorious however, when, in March 2010, communities secretary John Denham said Norwich would get unitary powers, but the county would not.

That was a decision which was contrary to the Boundary Committee’s recommendations and it led to a High Court challenge by Norfolk County Council, joining forces with Devon County Council - where Essex had also been told it could become a unitary council.

But within days of the coalition government seizing power, communities secretary Eric Pickles introduced a bill to stop the award of the unitary status in its tracks - saying it would stop £40m being wasted.

New Anglia chairman Andy Wood said: “It seems that whereas the government might have seen the (LEPs) as a bit of an experiment, they have now decided that they are now going to be the engines of growth.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said: “This is a report bursting with ideas and we will study it very carefully.”

The report recommends that: £60bn be stripped from Whitehall departments and handed to business-led bodies like Norfolk and Suffolk’s New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The two tier council system be abolished, with unitary authorities taking control.

Every school to have local business leaders on their governing boards.

Lord Heseltine said cities like Norwich and Ipswich and their regions were once vital to British might and it was time they were again.

He explained: “The argument which over decades has led to the present centralism goes very simply – ‘they are not good enough, they can’t be trusted, we can do it better, let’s have a quango’. “It’s happened under all governments. It’s happened over decades and you now have an economy in this country unlike any other in an advanced capitalist economy – on a functional and on a monopolistic basis in the capital city.

“The object of the report is to recreate and strengthen the partnership of local government and private sector so policies are designed where they matter.”

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