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Fears voiced over transfer of council benefits service

Thursday, 29th April 2010.

Councillors have been urged to ensure they retain some local presence in Haverhill from St Edmundsbury's benefits and revenue service when it is farmed out to another organisation.

The borough council plans to save nearly 300,000 by joining the Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP), which already delivers the benefits and revenue service for Forest Heath, Breckland and East Cambridgeshire District Councils.

It will mean the loss of a significant number of jobs at St Edmundsbury to be achieved by 'natural wastage over two years', the council's cabinet was told yesterday.

The cabinet - the council's main decision-making committee - was meeting in Haverhill, which it does once a year, after having a tour of the new football project in Chalkstone Way.

This gave Lynda Smith, a recovery officer based in Haverhill, the opportunity to tell members that, although staff appreciated the reasons behind the move, they were 'frightened about losing a good service'.

"I would like to fly the flag for the Haverhill office in particular," she said. "We have worked very hard to establish relationships with customers, so that if they come in and ask to see a benefit officer or a recovery officer, they can do so."

Although a front office would be retained under ARP, there is a lot of detail yet to be worked up about how much, if any, of the back office support there would be on site in Haverhill or Bury, as most staff would be centralised in Thetford.

Council leader Cllr John Griffiths said ARP had run a 'hub' successfully in Ely, and he understood they could have one in Haverhill if that was the best way forward.

He told Mrs Smith: "We share your fears and hope they can be addressed."

Haverhill portfolio holder Cllr Anne Gower said: "I am actively aware of the importance of the service in Haverhill and I will be fighting tooth and nail for it."

Introducing the proposals, resources and efficiency portfolio holder Cllr Paul Farmer said it had ben a choice between ARP and the Suffolk Revenue Partnership (SRP) involving Ipswich and Babergh.

There had been almost nothing to choose betwen them, but it was felt the west Suffolk location of ARP was more beneficial.

Cllr David Ray, portfolio holder for performance and organisational development, said he was certain customers would be well served.

Although there was little to choose between the two options to begin with, by 2021 the ARP option would result in a 1 saving on band D council tax.

The council's Unison representative Howard Cook told members staff completely understood the reasoms for choosing ARP.

But the transfer would take place in April 2011, which was just 11 months away and staff faced a near-vertical learning curve.

They also valued the face-to-face service to the public and did not want to lose that.

Haverhill Online News

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