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New partnerships may lead to revival of West Suffolk

Monday, 28th February 2011.

Two councils are beginning to share some of their services to save money, and there are signs it could be the start of a revival of the idea of West Suffolk.

Before 1974 local government re-organisation, there were two county councils in Suffolk - West and East. Since then West Suffolk has not existed as a legal entity.

But St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which covers Haverhill and Bury St Edmunds, and Forest Heath District Council, which covers the Newmarket area, have been working hard at sharing services to make them stronger and more cost-effective, and therefore better placed to face Government funding cuts.

The councils started exploring idea of West Suffolk when the Local Government Review (LGR) ended with the Government stopping any unitary government in Suffolk.

A close working relationship developed between staff and councillors while building the case for West Suffolk, and the informal partnership continued, with them formally agreeing in December 2009 to work together as preferred partners.

Now they are saying this could set the foundation for a future West Suffolk – potentially wider partnership than councils, such as health and police.

So far communications (the councils' public relations departments), ICT and property services have been selected for working towards joint structures, possible meaning some jobs will be lost.

The Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) – the partnership which delivers the revenues and benefits service for Forest Heath, Breckland and East Cambridgeshire councils - will expand from 1 April when St Edmundsbury joins.

Frontline staff will stay in Bury and Haverhill offices, with backroom staff moving to Thetford. This will save £325,000 in administration costs for St Edmundsbury. Forest Heath made significant savings when it joined ARP and these are continuing.

The two councils are already saving money through a shared waste management service, providing a domestic kerbside recycling and refuse collection service to a combined population of over 166,000 people in over 78,000 households, emptying six million wheeled bins and 1,400 litter bins every two weeks.

The partnership is looking at saving around £300,000 a year, following a review of the way the service works.

More controversially, the councils are looking at merging their planning departments. St Edmundsbury's head of planning, Patsy Dell, has left for a new job.

Instead of automatically replacing her, both councils will have an interim arrangement for six months from April with Forest Heath’s Nicola Baker becoming a shared head of service.

During the interim period a business case will be developed to explore whether it is sensible to formally join both planning services.

Haverhill Online News

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