Chief says council merger is ‘logical’

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THE chief executive of St Edmundsbury Borough Council says he can see the logic behind a merger with Forest Heath, even though it is not being considered at the moment.

The leaders of St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath District Council outlined their ‘special relationship’ at a press briefing on Monday, telling of how their three-year vision for shared services is already saving money and improving services.

But when asked why they are not pressing to save even more taxpayers’ money by merging – and having one chief executive, Geoff Rivers, CEO at St Edmundsbury said: “The logic is faultless but we are not going in that direction at the moment.”

The two councils had worked on a merger plan for a West Suffolk Unitary Authority in 2008 – those plans for local Government restructuring in Suffolk were abandoned last year.

Over the past year, the two councils have been working on sharing services. The two are already expecting to save £300,000 a year as part of an existing waste partnership, while St Edmundsbury will join Forest Heath in the Anglia Revenues Partnership from April 1, saving St Edmundsbury £325,000 a year.

The councils are looking at sharing ICT, making savings of £1.7 million a year, as well as communications and property management.

So far the two councils, which employ a total of about 760 staff, have avoided having to make redundancies.

David Burnip, CEO at Forest Heath, said the savings offered the two councils a ‘degree of resilience’ against having to make future cuts to services.

Leader of St Edmundsbury, Cllr John Griffiths, said: “The whole purpose of this is to protect, preserve and enhance the quality of life for the people of Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury and make sure the impact of the difficult economic environment is cushioned as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Geoffrey Jaggard, leader at Forest Heath backed the move for shared services but said a future merger like Mid Suffolk and Babergh district councils could not be ruled out.

“Who knows what the future may hold?” he said: “The funding situation is going to be infinitely difficult for all of us.”