South Norfolk and Yarmouth in council “marriage” talks

Fears have been raised about a 'shotgun marriage' between two Norfolk councils after it emerged that South Norfolk and Great Yarmouth had entered shared services discussions.

Leaders of the two authorities have agreed to hold more detailed talks, which could see a sharing of staff between the largely rural district and seaside borough.

Both councils are looking at ways to reduce costs and protect frontline services ahead of a 25pc cut in their budgets over the next four years.

And news of a possible partnership between the two authorities comes after South Norfolk dumped neighbour Breckland Council at the altar earlier this year after it had planned to share a chief executive and senior management teams.

The leaders of Great Yarmouth Borough Council and South Norfolk Council, which are both Conservative controlled, yesterday stressed that it was very early days.

But opposition councillors said that the very idea of sharing services between a rural district and an urban borough was 'laughable'.

The two districts border each other at St Olaves and Haddiscoe and leaders say that they already have the same financial systems and revenues and benefits platform.

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Barry Coleman, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said the authority was facing �2m of cuts this year and �2m the following year and had begun investigations about teaming up with South Norfolk.

'I am fairly certain the public are not worried where their services are organised providing it is a good, high quality service. It is important that each authority maintains its identity,' he said.

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk, said sharing services with authorities on an 'ad hoc' basis did not save enough money. 'We are talking to them [Great Yarmouth] in more detail than anyone else, but it is very premature. Although we are talking with Great Yarmouth in detail, we are talking to the others as well,' he said.

Mick Castle, leader of the Labour opposition at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said he feared the town could suffer if there was a 'shotgun' marriage with an authority 30 miles away.

'The geography of a merger between South Norfolk and Yarmouth is laughable and the demography is as different as chalk and cheese,' he said.

Murray Gray, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition at South Norfolk, said it was a 'surprise' to hear that the Tory leadership was courting their neighbours in the east.

'It is probably early days and they [South Norfolk Conservatives] have had their fingers burnt with Breckland and they should proceed very cautiously.

'Our view is that it is better to share services on an individual services basis,' he said.