Will more Suffolk councils merge and what will it mean for homes?
PUBLISHED: 07:30 09 April 2019
The merger of two Suffolk councils is still on the cards according to their leaders – one year after the plans were thrown in doubt.
Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils announced in April last year that work on a merger had been put on hold because of then county council leader Colin Noble pursing work on a unitary Suffolk authority.
Mr Noble was subsequently replaced as leader in May by Matthew Hicks, who has not continued a unitary bid.
Now, the leaders at the two councils have confirmed they are committed to continuing with the merger.
Nick Gowrley, Mid Suffolk leader said: “We already feel we have a mandate for it.
“We did a ComRes [independent market research company] study at the end of 2017 that supported the merger but we need to have a willing partner to do it.
“We will see what comes out of the elections in May but it’s not dead in the water.”
Merging the two authorities aims to help save money at a time when council budgets are being increasingly squeezed, and would protect services from being cut.
The two already share most services at its Endeavour House headquarters in Ipswich, but a merger would formally unite the two.
A public consultation in early 2018 also backed a merger.
Babergh leader John Ward said: “We are working closely together and there are further plans for additional working together on the horizon. Most have been done but there are a few things left to sort.
“Realistically the endgame will be a merger. As to when that will happen, that’s another question.
“We have got to take our communities with us and then we have got to explain the benefits.
“We will never do it unless we have the community behind us because it will be for full council to make that decision.”
Mid Suffolk’s opposition Green group has backed plans for a merger, but only on the basis that it resulted in Suffolk having four unitary authorities – Ipswich, East Suffolk, West Suffolk and Babergh and Mid Suffolk – and scrapping the county council long term.
It would essentially mean that those four councils would carry out all areas of council business, including health and social care, education and highways which are currently managed by the county council.
Andrew Stringer from the Greens said that with staff already working together and the number of councillors reduced from ward boundary changes, the benefits of pursuing a full merger were now “marginal” in the short term.
He added: “We need to make efficient our current arrangements before we look at even further change.
“Then, and only then, should we pursue any merger after we have asked the public.”
This month marks the start of the new East Suffolk Council, which has been formed by merging Waveney and Suffolk Coastal district councils, while West Suffolk also launched on April 1, effectively combining Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils.