Questions go on over the cost to councils of failed merger plan

Breckland Council has defended its decision not to wait for the outcome of crucial elections in Great Yarmouth before committing its most senior officer's time to a failed project to merge senior staff.

Breckland already shares high-level officers with South Holland Council and spent six months developing plans to include staff from Yarmouth, despite its Labour group's pledge to scrap the idea if it took control in May.

Labour won the election after taking four Conservative seats, and abandoned the policy.

Six Yarmouth Borough Council staff spent an estimated 276 hours, worth about �10,000, on the project and claimed more than �1,000 in expenses, according to information released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Breckland Council said it did not incur any direct costs from the project, and said it could not calculate the indirect costs of the time joint Breckland and South Holland chief executive Terry Huggins spent in discussions with Yarmouth.

The EDP has asked for more information in an appeal under the Freedom of Information Act.

Breckland Labour leader Terry Jermy said: 'We debated this in March and they knew then the election was taking place in May and there was a very real risk of a change. The Labour group there had consistently opposed shared services. To charge ahead and spend a considerable amount of money for what – it seems very unnecessary.'

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Breckland leader William Nunn said the project would have saved Breckland �120,000 a year and �700,000 across the three councils.

He said this was worth Mr Huggins, who is paid up to �124,000, committing this time before the election despite the uncertainty about whether the scheme would go ahead.

He said: 'The only cost involved comes in Terry's personal time, over and beyond the call of duty. Did it take his mind off other things? Undoubtedly for a period of time.

'Bearing in mind the savings were close to �700,000, if we had waited another six months in effect we would have lost �350,000. Yes, we spent �10,000 but we had the potential to save �350,000 and that we a risk worth taking.'

He said the council was currently in discussions about sharing services with a number of other councils, both in and outside Norfolk.

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