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Will the high street be sorted before highways work is privatised?

Tuesday, 1st November 2011.

The long-running saga of Haverhill's high street pedestrianisation has taken another twist with the announcement that Suffolk County Council highways department, whose responsibility it now is, is likely to be privatised.

Only a couple of weeks ago the highways department came up with a new plan for achieving street closure during the day, although many of the issues within it were still unresolved.

It is likely to end up in public inquiry, currently estimated to take place next year, but with the past record of delay over the scheme there has already been some doubt about the timing.

Now the county council is considering the highways service being fully privatised from April 2013. In pursuit of cost savings the council says 'it is necessary to develop a new model of service delivery'.

Of three potential models that were initially put forward to Cabinet in July, it is now being asked to consider the procurement of a future highways service based upon the fully private sector model.

This model involves the design and delivery of all highway maintenance and improvement work lying under the responsibility of a single private sector organisation.

Services that the new organisation would be responsible for include the design and construction of highways improvements, winter maintenance, road safety education and street lighting.

If the cabinet agrees the proposal, work will begin to immediately appoint of a private sector provider with a new service model in place from April 2013, when current external contracts expire.

Cllr Guy McGregor, the council’s portfolio holder for roads and transports, said: “I am convinced that to get the best results from the money Suffolk County Council spends on road maintenance and repairs we need an integrated service, and these proposals will deliver this.

“Also important is the need to respond to local conditions, especially when there are emergencies. The input from local county councillors and town and parish councils on the delivery of the service will be enhanced.

"As much of highway work is carried out by local (often small-scale) contractors, I will ensure that the good relations that currently exist will continue under the new arrangement.”

Subject to cabinet agreeing the proposal, a further report is anticipated in November 2012 when approval will be sought to award the contract.

Meanwhile, all the county's libraries will be kept open, run by a newly-created organisation if the council agrees another major change next month.

The proposals would see Suffolk County Council create an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), an organisation working with, but independent from, the county council and free from council bureaucracy, to support the county's library network.

The IPS would hold charitable status, be able to benefit from an 80 per cent reduction in property rates and apply for external funding.

It would predominantly be funded by a grant from Suffolk County Council, and use its resources to provide central support to all of Suffolk's existing, and future, libraries.

The new model would cost a maximum of £652,000 to set up but would be 27.6 pert cent cheaper to run than the current arrangement. It would mean library services in Suffolk would cost £6.487m a year, as opposed to their £8.961m running cost in 2010/11, without any library closures.

Much of the savings come from reducing management tiers and central staffing costs which would no longer be needed in the more slim line organisation. Staff currently working in libraries would be transferred into the IPS under TUPE employment rules.

Eventually, every library would have a community group involved and having a direct say in its day to day running. Supported by the IPS, community groups will be able to opt for a level of responsibility they feel able to take on.

Seven pilot projects are currently being developed and will, from April 2012, be the first of these arrangements in action. Organisations running local libraries would become members of the IPS and elect its board.

If the main library proposals are supported by the council's cabinet on next week, they will then go before the next meeting of the full council in December for final decision.

The council would then work to set up the IPS by spring 2012.

Haverhill Online News

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