Sharing services could prevent cuts in North Norfolk and Great Yarmouth, council chief claims

Sheila Oxtoby, new Chief Executive of Great Yarmouth Borough Council.Picture: James Bass

Sheila Oxtoby, new Chief Executive of Great Yarmouth Borough Council.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

Working together could give North Norfolk and Great Yarmouth councils stronger voices and prevent cuts to services.

This is according to Sheila Oxtoby, who is six weeks into her new shared role as chief executive of Great Yarmouth Borough and North Norfolk District councils.

Over that time, she has looked into how they can cut costs by sharing certain departments, which otherwise would have to be created by withdrawing funds from services or by having to increase council tax.

Mrs Oxtoby, said: 'By March we should save £40,000 at each council for sharing my role as well as the head of finance role.

'It has been an extremely busy six weeks, but we are still in the early days of this interim deal, and we are looking at a business case to see what services could be shared.

'There are back office roles such as human resources and finance that could be shared, and over time there might be opportunities for further departments to be shared if new contracts come in that mean they can be delivered jointly.

'There are no certainties on what funds would otherwise have to be cut, but by sharing services we could prevent cuts to theatre, leisure or whatever service it is that could come under threat.

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'By sharing services it will also give a stronger voice to both authorities in terms of devolution.'

The trial process began with Mrs Oxtoby and chief finance officer, Karen Sly, working for both authorities on November 7.

It is to expected to last until sometime around June 2016, which is when meetings are expected to be held at both authorities, to discuss whether the partnership has worked and should go ahead further.

It is not the first time that Great Yarmouth Borough Council has spoken with other councils about sharing services.

A deal between Yarmouth and South Norfolk failed to materialise, while a deal between Yarmouth and Breckland and South Holland District councils, fell when Labour came into power in Yarmouth.

Graham Plant, Yarmouth council leader, said: 'Under a shared service if an officer is on holiday or maternity, it means there are other officers at other councils who can cover those vacancies.

'It is important we maintain our own individual sovereignties though, as Great Yarmouth is our own borough and there are differences between here and North Norfolk, but there is no reason why we shouldn't work together to become stronger and share services which can easily be shared and save both councils money.

'We owe it to tax payers to see whether shared services can bring these benefits.'

Tom FitzPatrick, leader of North Norfolk District Council, said: 'In North Norfolk we have not seen an increase in council tax over the last four years and it is important that we look at every possible way we can maintain that.

'If there is a robust business case where we can possibly share services over the two councils then it is something that we would have to seriously consider.

'We will have to see how things work under the joint chief executive role during this interim period, but lots of councils across the country have been down this road and it has proved to be successful.'