Merger mooted for staff at two Norfolk councils

Andrew Proctor and John Fuller, leaders of Broadland District Council and South Norfolk Council.

Andrew Proctor and John Fuller, leaders of Broadland District Council and South Norfolk Council. - Credit: Archant

Two Norfolk councils could join forces and merge management teams as they look to survive in the face of dwindling government funding.

Conservative controlled Broadland and South Norfolk Council - the two Norfolk councils which voted in favour of the aborted devolution deal - are exploring sharing services and staff.

The chief executives of the two councils have drafted a report for councillors to draw upon to decide whether they want to press forward with the move.

In the nine-page report, officers state: 'Broadland and South Norfolk have similar geographies, demographics and economics. The two councils already work together on a significant number of areas including housing and economic growth, keeping people independent in their own homes, audit services and building control.

'With the increasing need to have powerful fiscal incentives to grow the economy and build homes, growing pressures nationally on council finances and the need to continue to support quality staff recruitment and retention, it makes sense for the two councils to consider a more integrated approach to delivery for residents, businesses and visitors.'

The report says Broadland District Council needs to save £1.3m by 2020, while South Norfolk Council needs to save £700,000 by 2021, rising to £2m by 2022. It does not include any figures as to how much would be saved or any detail on job losses.

The report states: 'Although cost savings are a potential outcome of working more closely together, the proposal is not purely financially motivated.

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'It is about recognising shared ambitions to maximise quality of life, with growth at a scale that businesses and residents can relate to and make Broadland and South Norfolk some of the best places to live in the country.'

The report stresses that, although services and staff would be shared, the councils would retain separate identities and their own councillors.

It comes at a time when there is uncertainty over how local government will be funded in the future.

The revenue support grant - a general grant given to councils by the government each year - is due to end by 2020 and there is a lack of clarity over plans for councils to retain 100pc of business rates.

What the leaders say

In a joint statement, council leaders Andrew Proctor (Broadland) and John Fuller (South Norfolk), said: 'South Norfolk Council and Broadland District Council are asking their members to consider granting permission for officers to investigate the potential of creating closer collaborative working arrangements between the two councils while at the same time maintaining individual council sovereignty.

'This feasibility study would look at opportunities to drive economic and housing growth and enhance quality of life, build capacity and resilience for both organisations, deliver savings and improve service delivery to our residents.

'It would also explore options of how the two authorities could work more closely together through a shared officer team.

'These are early days in the process to investigate opportunities and it is expected to take approximately 4-6 months to complete the initial work.

'Options to be looked at are those seen as being mutually beneficial to both councils and where service delivery could be enhanced for residents and businesses through a more collaborative approach to working together.

'The background to this proposal stems in part from the recent Devolution negotiations, where both councils clearly demonstrated their appetite and support for delivering growth and services more effectively together locally.

'The study will also highlight more opportunities to progress both authorities common ambition of improving services to residents and businesses.

'Broadland District Council and South Norfolk Council have similar geographies, demographics and economies and this potential collaboration could be a positive foundation for the two councils to drive growth in the region and deliver public sector service transformation.

'South Norfolk and Broadland already have a strong history of working together, in terms of delivering growth and prosperity for the region as well as services that make a difference to the lives of our residents.'

What has happened before?

South Norfolk Council has looked to merge management teams in the past.

In 2010, South Norfolk withdrew from a merger with Breckland and a year later Great Yarmouth backed out of a South Norfolk merger.

But other councils have got shared staff arrangements. Breckland, after the South Norfolk rebuff, joined forces with South Holland in Lincolnshire, while Suffolk Coastal and Waveney Councils are set to merge.

But a temporary shared management agreement between North Norfolk District Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council ended in acrimony last year.

Three North Norfolk senior managers, including chief executive Sheila Oxtoby, had been shared with Yarmouth on a part-time basis while shared services were explored.

But the trio subsequently resigned from North Norfolk and went to work for Yarmouth.

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