Fresh delay for council merger talks as Babergh asks for new legal advice

Babergh councillors met at Endeavour House in Ipswich. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Babergh councillors met at Endeavour House in Ipswich. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Proposals which could lead to a merger between Babergh and Mid Suffolk districts have been further delayed after councillors demanded written legal advice before any further discussions are held.

The move, by a full meeting of Babergh Council, has introduced a fresh delay into the process of starting a public consultation with the public in both districts into a possible merger in 2019.

The decision to go ahead with the public consultation was taken by the council’s cabinet last month in a special meeting with the Mid Suffolk cabinet.

However Babergh’s scrutiny committee called in the decision and demanded that the full council should discuss the issue before any decision to go ahead was taken – that took place at Tuesday night’s council meeting. This was supposed to be an opportunity for councillors to give their views to be taken into consideration by the cabinet, no vote was scheduled.

However Independent Conservative councillor Stephen Williams proposed a motion that the council needed to see written copies of independent legal advice on whether the cabinet could decide the issue before any decisions could be taken. The motion was passed by 19 votes to 15.

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This means there has to be another full council meeting before the cabinet can take a decision. Mr Williams said the council had to have the written advice from the lawyer who had been consulted by chief executive Arthur Charvonia in front of them before they could take a decision.

However cabinet member John Ward was not impressed by this argument: “This is a delaying tactic. They are trying to stop the progress of the consultation. Why don’t you want to consult the public?”

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Conservative councillor Alan Ferguson said he was not opposed to a merger, but because it had been rejected by Babergh voters in a referendum in 2011, it was not right to consider going ahead without a commitment to a new referendum.

However council leader Jennie Jenkins said the government made it clear it was for councils to decide on whether they should seek to merge – but this debate was not about merger, but about how to consult voters about the future of local government in the area, with merger one option.

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