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The implications for those left behind

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Norwich and Exeter City Councils have insisted their proposed new unitary structures can successfully co-exist alongside the remainder of their counties.

Both are based on present boundaries, despite the rationale for their creation being based on their ability to spearhead economic growth over a wider area.

Their success will also depend on co-operation with adjoining authorities with whom relations have lately become strained.

Norwich chief executive Laura McGillivray says: “It’s not ripping the heart out from the county - it’s about strengthening the heart.”

She insists that the rest of the county should not be adversely affected by Norwich’s departure, and that there would be scope for some services to be operated jointly. She also claims the city would work “hand in hand” with the county on transferring other services.

However, others predict turmoil as the rest of the county adapts to the loss of its county town. John Fuller (Con), leader of South Norfolk DC, says: “The county council will have a reduction in its income of 15-20% and will suffer because it is much more expensive to deliver services in the rural area.”

Mike Jones (Con), leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, is among those to have gone through a similar break-up. His authority was created from Cheshire CC and local districts.

He advises the new unitaries to follow three rules: establish a new, more modern body; keep the right staff; and work in harmony with the legacy councils.

Cllr Jones says becoming a unitary has helped his area face up to public spending constraints - but that Norwich and Exeter might be too small to similarly benefit.

“In the first nine months we took out 1,100 jobs and we’ve invested some of the savings in frontline services. But smaller councils, when it comes to potential cuts, will be massively disadvantaged,” he says.

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