Home Page There's a reward for all working together - as long as you lot pay for it 28/11/14

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Leaders of the public sector in Suffolk are celebrating their latest coup in squeezing £3.35million out of the Government.

Divided across the borough, county and district councils as well as the police, health providers and so on, it may not amount to very much each, but it will ease pressure in some important areas, no doubt.

One of the main reasons for Suffolk’s success – apart from the obvious one that its local authorities are Tory-led and there is an election coming up – is that the Government is always impressed nowadays with examples of partnership working.

Part of the now rather submerged Localism agenda which David Cameron and his sidekick Eric Pickles have been so keen on has been the lightning strike of understanding whereby they came to see that organisations do better by working together than by running in their own tramlines oblivious to anyone else.

The ethos behind collaborative working may be all very well, but it would have been unlikely to recommend itself to them on that basis alone, as A Good Thing. But the fact that it naturally results in financial savings is another matter.

If everyone works together it avoids duplication – which, with a bit of luck, allows you to get rid of some costly staff, always a popular move with Government – and generally means it is easier for members of the public to get a response to their particular needs.

More and more in Suffolk and elsewhere, the big public organisations are being forced to work together, if only because quite a lot of them now find themselves in the same room, costly buildings having been got rid of.

With fewer staff required to do fewer functions, as councils offloaded various of their responsibilities into the private sector, they could get not just into the same building, but even onto the same floor.

It’s even happening in Haverhill now, with St Edmundsbury borough and Suffolk county councils sharing space in Lower Downs Slade - but only since it has been in action have the organisations begun to realise the benefit of it.

Officers don’t even have to pick up the phone to sort out some minor query with their opposite number – they can just walk over to the other side of the office and speak direct.

Jolly well done, says the Government, here’s another £3.35million to make your lives just that little bit easier. Thanks, say the SPSL (Suffolk Public Sector Leaders), and we’ll do more of the same because we’ve discovered there’s a great opportunity to increase our collaborative working – just in case you’ve got any more millions knocking about looking for a good home.

The leaders issued their statements about what a great success it was and how they already have plenty of good examples of collaborative working up and running in their areas.

St Edmundsbury’s leader John Griffiths and his Forest Heath oppo James Waters, who seem to speak jointly nowadays like Tweedledum and Tweededee, listed such successful examples as Mildenhall Hub and the council and health teams sharing West Suffolk House in Bury.

It was disappointing that neither he nor the leader of Suffolk County Council mentioned how the way had been pioneered in Haverhill, to such a degree that it became one of the Government’s 12 national pilots on community budgeting.

It would have been nice if one or other of them had thought fit to say something along the lines of: We have, in our county/borough, one of the star national pioneers in this sort of working from which so much has been learnt here and is being learnt now up and down the country – ONE Haverhill.

But such a statement would have been unacceptable, giving undue prominence to Haverhill and seeming to imply that this generally overlooked corner of their borough/county was actually somehow ahead of the game.

ONE Haverhill, labouring under its self-imposed disadvantage of meeting in private, could do with such testimonials to raise its profile in the local community and get people to believe in it.

We had another prime example of the problem this week at the town council meeting, where members of the public are clearly unhappy that the council should be contributing any money to ONE Haverhill.

ONE Haverhill is leading the charge in preparing the town centre masterplan, for which £30,000 is apparently needed for consultation work – although Heaven knows what more there is to be learned about the matter by consultation than has already been gleaned and piled up in the borough council’s data banks over the past 20 years’ endless series of surveys and consultation.

Nevertheless, we are told this work has to be done in order to make the final document in any way legally binding, so I suppose we have to bite the bullet.

ONE Haverhill has no money of its own and can only allocate money made available by its partners, so it seems reasonable enough for the town council, as a major partner, to stump up.

The issue is complicated by the similarity of the amount to that which the borough took away this year, the first of four years of such trousering, money which the Government had made available to town and parish councils to cover the shortfall brought about by a change in the way council tax is calculated.

To cover the gap, Haverhill Town Council put up its precept in council tax, and now appears to be giving that money back to a process the borough council is responsible for.

This is, of course, a typical piece of sleight of hand by St Edmundsbury, who have now not only got out of handing over the money, but also of paying for part of the masterplan process. It’s quite clever, really.

Sadly, if you get hung up on this sort of thing within local government, you will have a short and apoplectic political life. It goes on all the time.

If we want the job done, the money has to come from somewhere, so it’s better to just get on with it. Wherever it comes from will ultimately have been council taxpayers’ pockets – exactly whose is academic.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
© Haverhill-UK | Accessibility | Disclaimer