Thursday, February 11, 2010

Unitary: How do Labour (and the LibDems) expect to get away with this?

Typical Labour Government - they can't even announce a decision without making a ham fist of it. Let me tell you the story of Unitary.

As regular readers will no doubt remember the story goes something like this.

Norwich Labour decide they want Unitary because they thought that those horrible Tories (you know, the ones who run the excellent four-star County Council) ignored Norwich and their out-of-touch cabinet members who know little about the City (you know, the ones who represent faraway places like Cringleford or live in Eaton) shouldn't be allowed to spread practice (you know, the acclaimed service provision) to Norwich (you know, the council with the zero-star Housing Department). So they applied for unitary status.

Unfortunately the then-Labour Secretary of State said that the plans were unaffordable, so they put in 2 bids (against the rules at the time I think) which contained plans for a small unitary based on existing boundaries and an enlarged unitary based upon taking in surrounding villages. Labour Ministers never killed this off...

Then people in South Norfolk and Broadland went bananas at the thought of this and protested against the plans. Still the then-Labour Secretary of State thought it was a bad idea.

Then the County Council launched their own bid for one large Unitary based upon the whole of Norfolk, which upset an awful lot of people including the district councils.

So given the County bid met the 5 criteria set down by the government but the City bid didn't, the then-Labour Secretary of State sent the decision off to the Independent Boundary Commission for a decision. Still Labour Ministers didn't kill this off...

The Independent Boundary Commission worked very hard and fought off various legal challenges and the whole thing dragged on-and-on whilst taxpayers continued to foot the bills.

Then the Independent Boundary Commission stunned everyone by saying only the Norfolk Unitary met all the criteria and that the Norwich bid was risky, unaffordable, poor value for money and the government should avoid it at all costs.

So the decision goes off to the Labour Secretary of State for a decision. Should he go with the County Unitary, scrap the whole thing (despite telling everyone status quo wasn't an option all along) or do something else?

You got it - do something else.

So a written statement was sent out and the Secretary of State avoided questions in the Commons because his decision was to implement the original City Council bid (you know, the one which the Independent Boundary Commission warned against as did two former Labour Secretaries of State).

And now - thanks to the Guardian for the story - it turns out the Civil Servants are so worried about the decision backfiring that they asked the Secretary of State to "order" them to do this and thus clearing them of responsibility.

And how does the Secretary of State justify this? By changing the goal posts and applying some very muddled thinking to this. So still Labour don't kill it ...

If you think I'm being partisan about this, think again - this decision sees me unable to stand for council and will have to give up my seat and does nothing to help the Tory position (an extended boundary unitary would have, for example). The position I have taken has always been in the best interest of the City (and taxpayers) of Norwich

If you think I'm being flippant, you're right, I am. Only because like a lot of people I want this whole thing sorted one way or another. And given the potential hold ups in the Commons and the Lords, and the Conservative pledge to overturn this in office, could the whole game be for nothing? This has dragged on too long and cost too much - for all councils and all council tax payers.

Unitary has been cursed since the day that Labour, and their LibDem / Green poodle allies, popped corks on the steps of City Hall. So where has this announcement leave us? Not much further forward I'd say; still in the air.

UPDATE: LibDems are pretty much at war over this now - Norman Lamb was uncompromising in his attack on the plans in the EDP today and tonight Brian Watkins, City LibDem Leader, told me he still passionately backed the bid. Words from LibDem circles is that of daggers drawn.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic blogpost which shows why you are the top Norwich blogger now.

And as a Broadland resident I agree with you about Unitary!

Anonymous said...

and where id Ramsey and his greens in all this? still naively backing plans..... although they could have been running the show!

Norwich resident said...

as a Norwich resident I disagree with you about Unitary.

Bring on Unitary for Norwich and lets keep our lights on.

North Earlham Resident said...

The new council could reverse the historic under-investment in city schools and put the resources where they are needed most.

It has been so long since we had proper investment in Norwich schools.

Norwich has been under invested for a long time - WE ARE THE FORGOTTEN CITY.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! As a labour voter in Broadland I cannot disagree with any of this.

Nich Starling said...

Antony, the stuff about the Lib Dems is total bunkem. I know you ahve your set agenda to attack the Lib Dems at all costs,but your claims of splits, daggers, etc, is just comical.

I know Norman and Brian and there is no issue. After all, as you well know, different council groups can hold differing opinions. Didn't you after all campaign against the Tory County Council on incinerators ? And don't you hold doffering opinions on streetlighting ?

How would you feel if I ran a story on splits and daggers drawn in the local Tories ?

You really should show more responsibility.

Bowthorpe resident said...

I live in Bowthorpe and I don't see this under investment at all. Forty million going on local high school, (costessey takes about half its kids from bowthorpe); A 3 million pound going on a community hub. I can think of other examples all accross tr city.

If you ask me most of the problems in Norwich stem from the city council. I have friends in North Earlham whose homes are literally falling around them due to lack of maintaince.

A greater Norwich kind of made sense but this is akin to pushing the parent out of the driving seat and telling their slight thick 9 year to take wheel.

Unitary Madness said...

I find it strange that specific policy issues are being used to justify Unitary. If Labour wants the poicly in the county council to change then they should aim to start winning local elections rather than trying to change the rules.

Another Norwich Resident said...

I don't oppose unitary authorities but I DO oppose the signal it sends by giving it to a failing authority taking power from a good authority.

Larkman resident said...

In response to Unitary Madness. When you look at specific policy issues - unitary is a policy issue.

Your argument would be correct if you take the assumption that a County Council is the most efficient local government body to carry out policy. In the case of Norfolk - it isn't.

Unitary makes sense because it will bring back democratic accountability to Norwich and policies specific to the Norwich area.

On the issue of 'historic underinvestment' you have to look at Norfolk County Council's recent policy to cut short the funding to the most deprived schools in the city as proof of this. You can quote the figures spent on Academy - but this is surely due to Labour investment in education. I do agree that the County Council has made a more of a commitment, but its recent policy speaks for itself in the lack of investment.

Tory Guru said...

I just want to register my joy at Sam Gyimah winning East Surrey. I am sure the Conservatives will have a top class PPC who will win the election for them in that seat, and be part of a smashing next Tory government.

There is another threat to my joy - that Iain Dale failed yet again to become a PPC. I do feel sorry for him in a way - I think he generally loves the Tory party and devotes a lot of his time to their cause. BUT, and this is a the crux of it - He doesn't understand politics and can't grasp that fact. He wants to understand politics, but partly his education and his inability to think more broadly is limiting. My message to him would be simple - Iain you are a nice bloke, give up and become a German teacher like you wanted to at the beginning. Stop wanting to become an MP because its not happening.

Anonymous said...

What on earth makes people think that a new City Unitary would spend more on schools than the current county? Running a smaller authority must cost more and thus leave less for schools themselves, surely?

Anonymous said...

This schools thing is quite amazing, Unitary Norwich will be left running four high schools, one of which has a minority of pupils from the Unitary Norwich area. So Morph and co are going to heavily invest, apparently, in CNS, Hewitt, Sewell Park and, possibly, Notre Dame. Great if you live in Bowthorpe! Oh and don't forget the investment will have to be funded by your council tax contributions.

Finally, has anyone heard how they are going to improve results and standards in norwich schools?

Broadland Gav - Ruperts best buddy

Anonymous said...

Antony ..I've witness the whole Unitary process with huge frustration and dismay about councillors from all over Norfolk. I voted for you in Bowthorpe!

I hold the opposite view that Unitary will be positive for Norwich, obviously more so on expanded boundaries- having read the BCs docs in detail. I agree with the pro Norwich sentiments expressed by previous comments. I have been absolutely fed up by county council politicans from Kings Lynn, Diss making contraversial decisions on issues like Norwich's transport, waste etc at 10am council meetings (when most are working), rather than a more convenient 7.30pm. I'm quite happy for a Unitary Norfolk, or whatever non Norwich Norfolks organise for themselves otherwise.

In 1974 people and LGAs just got on with the change and stopped whinging about being victims, arguing minutia, legal nonsense or party nonsense. In 1974 many services were divided up from the Boroughs to Counties. Life went on.

What the Boundary Comission largely ignored and didn't understand was the measure of Norwich city identity, history and infrastructure as a urban centre with urban needs. BC where simply coming out with "least cost". IBC's brief avoided commom sense IMO. In business big brands like Aviva argue the same case, extinguishing history and identity (Norwich Union). You will understand this. I saw the Expanded Doughnut as the best option, the Smaller Doughnut next best for Norwich.

So I support the minister's about the houses, yet considered decision. A decision is the important element, not the procrastination, civil servant butt covering or legal rubbish. Garbage in and out. Norwich unitary should have been bettered on expanded boundaries. I view this is a key election issue and people should vote in South Norwich on whether Norwich unitary issue is good for them or not!