Two more councils to merge services

TWO councils facing multi-million pound budget shortfalls in the coming years have agreed to look at merging some services as part of a major cost cutting drive.

Laurence Cawley

TWO councils facing multi-million pound budget shortfalls in the coming years have agreed to look at merging some services as part of a major cost cutting drive.

The move by Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council to work as partners follows on the heels of a decision to run joint waste services.

A shared services steering group has been set up and will be investigating which departments can be shared between the two authorities.

As well as sharing departments, the councils will work together to decide whether a departing staff member needs to be replaced. Savings made under the partnership project, which is expected to come into affect in the new financial year, will be shared.

The decision comes just weeks after it emerged St Edmundsbury was at risk of falling �3million into the red within three years while Forest Heath faced a budget shortfall of �2.8million within five years.

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In a joint statement, John Griffiths, St Edmundsbury's leader and Geoffrey Jaggard, leader at Forest Heath, said: “People have a strong sense of local identity but quite rightly have an expectation that councils will not let boundaries get in the way of making savings.

“In these difficult economic times, when every council is facing the same financial challenges, it makes sense to see where we can drive costs down by sharing staff and overheads. By closer collaboration, initially between ourselves and hopefully other partners in the future, we expect to continue improving local services across west Suffolk.

“Both councils need to save millions from their revenue budgets in the coming years and careful planning avoids the need for knee-jerk reactions to these financial pressures.

“This is not a formal merger of our two councils - each has its own distinct identity and local priorities - but sharing some services at various levels will help us to get the best value for money for the council tax payers in each area."

The two authorities could eventually look to other councils in the area for wider partnerships. A three-year timetable will be drawn up to identify which services would be first and where savings can be made.

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