Unitary Devon- High Court will rule in the New Year
EAST DEVON District Council s lawyers will spend Christmas awaiting a High Court ruling on the Boundary Committee s proposal to reorganise local government in Devon. EDDC maintains that the Boundary Committee was using out-dated financial data came to it
EAST DEVON District Council's lawyers will spend Christmas awaiting a High Court ruling on the Boundary Committee's proposal to reorganise local government in Devon.
EDDC maintains that the Boundary Committee was using out-dated financial data came to its view that a giant single unitary council was a better option for the future than the current system. One of the key factors any new system must satisfy is that that it is affordable - that is to say it will save money even after the expense of bringing about the change.
The Council also believes the Boundary Committee did not share the financial information with the public in a way that was accessible and easy to understand, with the result that people have not had an opportunity to look at it critically.
Finally, EDDC contends that the Boundary Committee was wrong to decide that it could consider only one possible outcome, so dismissing out of hand any other possible arrangements.
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EDDC Leader Councillor Sara Randall Johnson commented: "We want the court to help us ensure that the Boundary Committee looks at these issues properly. The Credit Crunch has moved things on in a very short time from where they were when the Boundary Committee first started looking at the figures. Affordability is even more critical now than it was then, so it's vital that they base their decision on the most up-to-date financial information.
"The Boundary Committee has a public responsibility to assess affordability in the light of current national and international financial market conditions, and to make use of all the financial information in its possession. The Boundary Committee's draft proposal was based on 2007/08 estimates, when 2008/09 budgets were available, as well as the audited figures for 2007/08".
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Miss Randall Johnson added that Council Tax payers would expect that those advising on the financial aspects of local government review would approach their task with the same prudence required of accountants carrying out due diligence exercises in company mergers or reconstructions, since the decisions will impact on their long term financial well-being, much like shareholders in companies.
She concluded: "The economic downturn has had a significant impact on both the financial reserves available to Devon authorities and to income, both of which are crucial to working out whether any model of reorganisation meets the Secretary of State's test for affordability. We believe the people of East Devon can expect these matters to be properly and seriously addressed. We could take little satisfaction in telling the Government 'we told you so' if the Boundary Committee's sums prove sadly wrong."
Mr Justice Cranston will give his decision early in the New Year.