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Residents asked for views over Babergh and Mid Suffolk council merger

Nick Gowrley , leader of Mid Suffolk District Council and Jennie Jenkins, leader of Babergh District Council

Nick Gowrley , leader of Mid Suffolk District Council and Jennie Jenkins, leader of Babergh District Council

Phebe Donovan

Residents will be asked for their views on a potential merger between the district councils of Babergh and Mid Suffolk.

The councils today launched a public engagement on the future of local government in the two districts to help shape the business case for such a change.

The engagement, which runs until Monday, February 5, will ask for comment over plans to form a new single council to cover the area in the heart of Suffolk.

The last merger proposal was put to voters in 2011. Voters in Mid Suffolk backed the link-up, but those in Babergh rejected the proposal, largely because of fears that council tax bills would rise.

Green Party councillors at Mid Suffolk have backed calls for the public to decide whether the two districts should merge and supported plans to combine the councils six years ago.

Andrew Stringer, Green group leader, said: “Although government has removed the requirement for a public ballot, we are clear that is the only way to reach a legitimate decision on this fundamental matter.

“The only acceptable alternative would be for a debate ahead of local elections where political parties included in their manifestos a commitment for or against a merger.”

Councillor John Matthissen said: “Although some councils in Suffolk are pressing ahead without a full public mandate, others such as Dorset are putting proposals to a public vote and we are clear that is the only proper way, regardless of government weakening this aspect of our democracy.”

People can comment about the proposed merger on the websites of the two councils and an independent telephone poll, carried out by ComRes, has also been commissioned.

Councillor Jennie Jenkins, leader of Babergh District Council, said: “Since this idea was first discussed in 2011 a lot has changed, with councils in both the east and the west of Suffolk coming together, the local government landscape of Suffolk in 2017 would have been almost unrecognisable to us in 2011.

“We all need to make our residents’ council tax go further, and if creating a new council will allow us to do that we owe it to our residents to at least look into the idea. But we can’t do this alone, we need everyone to get involved, and let us know what they think, right across both districts. Only by doing this can we be sure our business case has all the detail we need to help us make the right decision.”

Councillor Nick Gowrley, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said: “With the financial challenge facing all of local government, business as usual is not an option.

“We need bold and innovative solutions to protect the services our residents need. Since 2011 we have saved £13 million by working closely with Babergh, but with further reductions in central government funding we need to do more.

“The option of creating a new council is one idea, but we need help from everyone across the districts to put together this business case.

“We need the right information so we can make the right decision, and that is why we’re asking everyone to get involved and let us know their thoughts.”

Anyone wishing to comment can take part online via www.babergh.gov.uk/onecouncil or www.midsuffolk.gov.uk/onecouncil

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