Norfolk councils: ‘Sharing services way to avoid Doomsday’

Two Norfolk councils are proposing to press ahead quickly with preparatory work on sharing services to prevent the need for 'doomsday' cuts in two years' time.

At meetings later this month, Great Yarmouth and South Norfolk councils will be asked to agree a course of action that will see due diligence carried out on the proposals over the next three months so plans can move ahead after the May local elections.

In that time, members and senior officers of both councils will conduct visits to each other's offices in Yarmouth and Long Stratton to focus on their strengths and weaknesses.

Because of government cuts, South Norfolk Council will have �1.5m less in its budget in April 2013 compared to the coming financial year; Great Yarmouth Borough Council will be facing a reduction of about �750,000.

South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller warned that while residents in both districts had not really noticed the impact of significant cost-cutting over the past 18 months, there would be no way of cushioning them in two years' time if both authorities chose to continue on their own.

He said: 'We have done some analysis in South Norfolk that shows that if we stay alone, we would not even be able to do all our statutory services in two years' time, and there would be no discretionary services.

'All councils are facing a doomsday situation. The government has given us two years to get our houses in order and it would be a dereliction of duty not to respond to the financial signals.'

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Yarmouth council leader Barry Coleman said the proposed tie-up with South Norfolk council was not a 'shotgun marriage'; it was a considered response, bringing together two willing partners which shared the same public service ethos.

While some critics have described Yarmouth and South Norfolk as 'chalk and cheese', Mr Fuller said there were a number of similarities between the two areas; for example, there were areas in South Norfolk such as Costessey and Diss which shared some of the problems more associated with urban areas of Yarmouth.

Staffing costs of both authorities account for about 80pc of their budgets so they will be looking to significantly cut their manpower through sharing services and cutting out duplication.

However, both leaders said that with an 8pc to 10pc annual staff turnover they hoped to make the savings through natural wastage rather than compulsory redundancy.

Staff savings would be made at all levels and the possibility of sharing one chief executive would be considered.

Both authorities shared the same accounting and revenues and benefits systems making shared operation easier to bring in.

Mr Fuller highlighted food hygiene inspection as one area where it would be easy to share services; in the holiday area of Yarmouth there was a huge peak in the summer so inspections in South Norfolk could be scheduled for other times of the year.

Sharing the refuse collection service was another possibility; bin lorries cost �120,000 a year to run so if by careful route planning, two lorries could be saved, that would roughly equate to a 2pc cut in council tax.

Mr Fuller said by sharing services, the authorities would be in a position to hire better quality staff for specialist roles.

stephen.pullinger@archant.co.uk