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West Suffolk: Eight more staff at St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath handed £60,000-plus payoffs - taking authorities’ total spend to almost £5million

11:00 01 August 2014

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Eight more council high-earners in west Suffolk have walked away with payoffs of more than £60,000 - taking the authorities’ total spending over four years to almost £5million.

Last year alone the eight biggest exit packages at St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath saw them fork out £740,000, as the two councils continue slashing staff to operate a shared service under the banner of West Suffolk.

A total of 45 staff were made redundant across both councils in 2013/14, at a cost of £1.6m, while a consultation is underway in St Edmundsbury about future savings that could see even more staff lose their jobs.

Moving to a shared service is saving the councils £3.5m ever year, with its senior management team trimmed from 20 to 12 as part of the restructure.

Forest Heath district councillor Mick Jefferys, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for west Suffolk next year, said: “On the whole I have to say the logic of merging two authorities is sensible.

“The downside is some very good people have lost their jobs and I am concerned about that, and obviously there is initially a cost to the councils in terms of redundancy payments.

“But I find it difficult to criticise Forest Heath, because I think they’ve been quite brave in merging two authorities against the natural resistance of the leading groups.”

The exodus of staff over the past financial year is the biggest since the councils began the transition to shared services at the start of 2010.

According to the councils’ annual accounts, three staff were handed exit packages worth more than £100,000, with two others handed £91,774 and £86,840 respectively. These payouts included pension contributions.

There have been 11 payouts of more than £100,000 in the past four years, and a further 12 of more than £60,000.

The payments are contractual and based on length of service, age and contractual entitlement.

Over the past three years, £3.6m of the council’s redundancy payments have been directly linked to the shared services switch.

In a joint statement, David Ray and Stephen Edwards, either councils’ cabinet member for resources, said: “The one-off cost of bringing together our services has been recovered through the savings made, but we enjoy the benefit from the savings every year.

“We have to think differently, not just spending once, but investing public money for a return, match funding to lever more funds, investing to save and generating revenue.

“Local authorities are among the most transparent organisations in the country and councillors and staff recognise the value of every penny, and the responsibility of getting the best possible return.”

The councils also spent around £200,000 split between two firms - Ignite Consulting and Graincrest Ltd - to undertake an in-depth restructuring programme for the move to shared services.

The west Suffolk councils face having their Government funding cut by around half over the coming years and say they need to make £5.3m of further savings before 2018.

Total spent on exit packages (£) 2013/14 2012/13 2011/12 2010/11

Forest Heath 552,617 823,793 324,730 383,511

St Edmundsbury 921,111 1,135,305 444,135 63,048

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