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West Suffolk: Peer review of region’s councils praises ‘clear sense of ambition’

10:48 09 May 2014

The West Suffolk House council offices in Bury St Edmunds

The West Suffolk House council offices in Bury St Edmunds

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An external health check of two west Suffolk councils has praised their amalgamation of staff to save cash and backed their plans to behave more commercially in order to
benefit taxpayers.

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Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council have completed a move to save £3.5 million a year, by sharing staff and services – while retaining the political independence of the two councils.

The two councils opted to undergo a free external health check – called the corporate peer challenge – run by the Local Government Association (LGA). The challenge saw a team made up of two council leaders, a chief executive and two deputy chief executives all from elsewhere in the UK, join an LGA advisor to review the way Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council operate.

They found despite massive changes, which had seen the two councils move to having one chief executive and a slimlined management structure with dozens of job losses, the levels of service to residents, businesses and other customers, had been maintained.

Leader of Forest Heath, James Waters, said: “Everything we do is with our taxpayers, our residents, our businesses in mind.

“Our priorities are for economic growth, for strengthening our families and communities, and for establishing better housing. This peer review tells us that we are getting it right, working more smartly to deliver more for each pound.”

John Griffiths, leader at St Edmundsbury, added: “There will always be more challenges ahead but, together, we are stronger, smarter, and better placed to serve our communities in west Suffolk.”

LGA principal advisor Heather Wills said: “There is a clear sense of ambition for the place, and recognition that the councils must change the way they do things in order to deliver the things that matter most to local residents and businesses in the context of significantly reduced financial resources.”

The review took place during November and February and saw the team speak to 135 people including staff, council members and representatives of outside bodies.

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