​​​​​​​Suffolk districts halt merger after county launches unitary review

9 Apr 18

Two Suffolk district councils have halted plans to merge after the county council commissioned a review into a possible unitary authority.

Suffolk County Council headquarters, Ipswich

Suffolk County Council headquarters, Ipswich


Mid Suffolk and Babergh councils were continuing with their plans to merge after two recent public consultations, which they said showed they had “clear support from residents”.

The local authorities moved into joint offices together in the county council’s premises in Ipswich [pictured] towards the end of last year.

But on Thursday last week, they released a statement saying they had called off the merger because the leader of Suffolk County Council had commissioned a report looking into the possibility of a unitary authority.

Both the district councils are in favour of looking at the possibility of a unitary authority.

Although, they are objecting to the work being carried out by the think-tank ResPublica, believing the work could not be “objective or independent”.

They called to the “ResPublica work to immediately stop” and be replaced by a joint review, with the county councils and wider public sector.

In a joint statement the councils said: “We have made it clear to Suffolk County Council that we cannot subscribe to, or support this ResPublica work; not least because we have not had the opportunity to assess, understand or inform the detailed specification for this work, and given ResPublica’s previous published reports we do not believe that this can be an objective or independent review of Suffolk.”

But the districts councils have still decided not to go ahead with submitting their draft business case for merging to their overview and scrutiny committees for detailed consideration.

They said this was in light of the county’s interest in a possibility unitary and that any new merged council from the districts would be unlikely before May 2020.

Nick Gowrley, leader of Mid Suffolk District added: “One of the alternative options that we also favour is the creation of unitary councils.

“It would not be sensible for us to start the process of a merger given the county council’s new willingness to consider other options.”

John Ward, leader of Babergh council said: “Having just moved into our new single headquarters, with an electoral boundary review already underway, with Suffolk County Council’s change of position and with our own elections just 12 months away, now is not the right time to be actively pursing a merger with Mid Suffolk District Council.”

Although, Gowrley noted it “makes sense” for the mergers in East and West Suffolk  to still go ahead and come into effect in 2019.

Piali Das Gupta’s has written for PF on what to consider when merging councils.

The Welsh government recently announced proposals the merge several local authorities.

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