Fenland, East Cambs and Huntingdon councils could merge

A merger between three district councils in the Fens could happen within four years, it was revealed today.

Leaders of Fenland, East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire councils have been meeting in secret to explore the possibility.

Staff at all three councils are tonight being briefed by their chief executives and senior managers about the possible merger which could save millions of pounds annually but result in hundreds of job losses.

Fenland Council leader Alan Melton said the three leaders had been talking informally about shared services for some time and merging all three councils was a possibility.

He said if councillors supported the proposal it could take up to four years to fully implement- and neither he nor the other two council leaders would expect to become leader in the new authority.

'Discussions are at a very early stage and at what you could call an embryonic stage,' said Mr Melton. 'What we will be looking for is a mandate to continue those exploratory talks.

'If this merger was to go ahead it would make major cuts in bureaucracy and management costs. It will produce significant savings for council tax payers- we are talking millions of pounds. 'This money could be returned to the council tax payers by way of lower bills or better services or a combination of both.'

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Mr Melton said all three leaders had signed a letter inviting their councillor colleagues to a meeting in Huntingdon next month, where the ideas will be discussed.

'All three authorities have a chief executive, deputies and whole layers of bureaucratic structures that could be removed,' he said.

'The minimum we might expect from these talks is a coming together of shared services- the maximum a complete merger.'

Mr Melton saidd the merger would also lead to more powers being devolved to town and parish councils.

'But this is not a bid to create a unitary authority- it is simply a merging of district council services where synergies exist,' he said.

'We are all rural based areas and all based on market towns. We all suffer poor rural infrastructure, poor transport and high costs.'

Tonight Fred Brown, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, described the move as a 'sensible solution to join working across county borders'.

'We sat around the table and thought 'what is the point of us being apart when it makes logical and financial sense for us to work together,' he said.

'We need more time to explore the full potential of the merger, but we know that in the future we can achieve more for less.'