One-stop shop 'could save £1m'

TAXPAYERS could reap the rewards of annual savings of nearly £1million if a “leading edge” scheme to bring two councils under the same roof wins backing.

TAXPAYERS could reap the rewards of annual savings of nearly £1million if a “leading edge” scheme to bring two councils under the same roof wins backing.

The proposed “public service village” in Bury St Edmunds would see staff currently employed in the town by both St Edmundsbury borough and Suffolk county councils working from one site.

It is hoped the arrangement would prove more convenient for customers while helping save vital cash to pump back into keeping annual tax rises to a minimum.

Speaking yesterday, officials said the project would see current premises, namely the borough offices on Angel Hill and county site at Shire Hall, sold or leased to provide funding for new buildings at Western Way.

This would consist of two separate office blocks and a shared central “hub”, which would contain a council chamber, meeting rooms and other facilities for both organisations to use.

Officials say the plan would save the borough around £400,000 each year, with the county reaping rewards of £300,000 annually.

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The cost of constructing the new premises, which stands at £7.8m for St Edmundsbury and £6.2m from County Hall, will be met through the sale of existing buildings, borrowing and raiding the council coffers.

“The business case makes it clear that the public services village makes sound financial sense,” said Nigel Aitken, portfolio holder for the economy at St Edmundsbury. “It is an exciting and innovative concept which will help us to offer improved services for our customers at a lower cost.

“Although we are spending capital, by the time we have looked at the savings and counted the loss of interest, as council taxpayers we will still be better off.”

The possibility of creating a town centre site, to act as a one-stop shop for those who find it difficult to travel to Western Way, will be considered over the next few months following a consultation period.

But officials said no redundancies would result from the change, as job losses would be met through normal staff turnover.

“By working together we can make sure that our buildings offer us good value for money, delivering efficiency savings in our running costs and ultimately improve our services for the public,” said Jane Storey, county council portfolio holder for resources, finance and procurement.

“These proposals are very exciting and could be an important step forward in streamlining our operations to keep council tax rises as low as possible.

“Most of the public do not know who provides which service anyway, so two councils in one building makes sense as then people have only one point of contact. This is not amalgamation, but a good way of working together and benefiting the council taxpayers of Suffolk.”

Carlton Brand, director of resources at St Edmundsbury, said financial help to the tune of £90,000 had been provided by the Government to investigate the possibility of the “leading edge” scheme.

The project is the most advanced of three currently under joint consideration by the county council and district authorities, with similar plans in Lowestoft and Ipswich also possibilities in the future.

An outline business case for the Bury scheme will be discussed by cabinets from both authorities next week, with St Edmundsbury's full council making a final decision in February. If approved, officials hope to move into the completed buildings by the end of 2008.

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