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East coast 'super district' moves a step closer after Waveney and Suffolk Coastal cabinets vote for merger vision

PUBLISHED: 21:42 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:22 24 January 2017

Waveney District Council's Riverside headquarters. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Waveney District Council's Riverside headquarters. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

© Archant 2015

A vision to create a new "super district" along the east coast is another step closer to becoming a reality after two cabinets agreed to merge their councils.

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The new East Suffolk Council could become the largest district in the entire country if the full councils at Waveney and Suffolk Coastal agree to ratify the change at their meetings later this week.

A simultaneous meeting of the authorities’ cabinets heard that joining the two organisations could save about £800,000 per year across the two areas. This, it was argued, is crucial at a time when the revenue support grant – the money councils get from the government – is being largely phased out.

A business case for the move also argued that one larger council would have more clout than two smaller ones, able to be taken more seriously at national level and gain extra funding for the area. Waveney and Suffolk Coastal already share the majority of their staff, including a chief executive – which they say has helped win money for flood defences and transport projects, like the long-awaited Lowestoft third crossing.

But the cabinet meeting at Suffolk Coastal’s Woodbridge headquarters also heard that while about 80 per cent of those surveyed in a public consultation support the move, there are still some concerns.

Labour opposition councillors such as Sonia Barker have complained that decisions about Lowestoft could be taken by councillors in Felixstowe, and vice versa.

Her party has argued that there should be a referendum to decide the matter, given that only a representative sample of 1,000 residents was taken. However a statement from the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce made ahead of the meeting said: “Our expectation is that the merger will, with fewer councillors and opportunities for economies of scale, result in speedy and focused decision-making and a more cost-effective and sustainable service, which should then be able to invest more in initiatives that support business and economic growth.”

If the move is approved by the two full councils, a formal proposal will be sent to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to merge.

At that point the councils will have to decide what size they want the new authority to be, with the expectation that it will mean a reduction in councillors.

Background

At a simultaneous cabinet meeting in March last year, councillors agreed that a merger of the two councils was their preferred option.

Last July, councillors considered a more detailed report setting out the full case for merger and they decided to proceed to the next stage with the merger proposal. This involved public consultation with each council being formally asked whether they wish to merge at full council meetings this week.

If they do, there will then be involvement from the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) to help determine the number of councillors for the new council, its warding pattern and committee arrangements.

This process of merging the two councils will therefore take a number of years to complete and any new council would not come into being until 2019. The final decision whether to approve a merger of the councils will be made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in around September 2017.

Facts and figures

The councils first started working together in 2008. They began by sharing a chief executive, saving over £70,000 annually.

The councils said they have saved about £16million since working in partnership together.

Today there is a single corporate management team for both councils which is less than half the size of the original two management teams – delivering annual savings of around £1million.

64% of staff are already working in single staffing teams that operate a shared service across the two councils.

90 district councillors represent the wider east Suffolk area (42 for Suffolk Coastal and 48 for Waveney), and while a merger would create the largest district council in England, no decisions have been made about how many councillors there should be. Therefore the councils will meet to agree what size the new council will be, in terms of seats and members.

With combined savings of £10m required over the next three years as a result of increased cost pressures and reduced Central Government funding, the merger is designed to deliver further savings of at least £1.3m a year.

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