Suffolk/Norfolk: County councils set to share more services to help save money

Mark Bee has been talking his opposite number in Norfolk about working together.

Mark Bee has been talking his opposite number in Norfolk about working together. - Credit: Ashley Pickering

Suffolk and Norfolk county councils are set to share more services in an attempt to save money.

But the leader of Suffolk has ruled out a merger of the administrations of the two counties.

A “Memorandum of Understanding” between the two counties is due to be signed on November 20 – St Edmund’s Day.

Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee said the move would lead to the two authorities sharing more “back office” services.

It was not the first step towards a merger – and there was no question of the two counties sharing a chief executive or senior officers as some districts have done.

While he was leader of Waveney council, Mr Bee appointed a joint chief executive with Suffolk Coastal and began the process of the two councils sharing senior staff – however he said he did not feel this would be appropriate for much larger county councils.

The prospect of sharing back office services will lead to concerns that jobs could be lost – however Mr Bee emphasised it was still early days.

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And the move is not being linked with the ending of the controversial contract with Customer Service Direct (CSD) which runs out in May next year. That will see many CSD staff transfer back into direct employment by the county council.

However both Mr Bee and his Norfolk counterpart George Nobbs believe that sharing some services could lead to savings.

And Mr Bee insisted political issues were not a major factor – he leads a Conservative majority administration in Suffolk while Mr Nobbs is the Labour leader of a coalition with the LibDems in Norfolk.

The Suffolk leader said: “Local Government is facing unprecedented financial challenges so it is incumbent on all of us to do everything we can to work together, cut waste and drive down costs.

“Suffolk is already leading the way in terms of working with other public sector organisations, including sharing office space with other councils and the police and delivering services together.

“There is absolutely no reason why joint working can’t transcend county borders and political divides. As council leader, I meet with other council leaders from time to time. George Nobbs and I met last week to progress discussions.”

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “From my first day as leader I realised that it would make sense to work co-operatively with other councils, and clearly the obvious one to approach was Suffolk.

“Norfolk and Suffolk are two halves of a common East Anglian identity, so I have had some meetings with my counterpart Mark Bee. Things are at an early stage and when there is anything to announce we will do so.”

Asked whether the relationship would be similar to district councils which share a chief executive and senior managers, Mr Nobbs said: “On the contrary. This is nothing like that sort of arrangement. This is two neighbours, two friends, talking to each other about how we help each other in these difficult times.”

He said it “would be nice” if the talks led to financial savings.

Mr Nobbs added: “It’s simply two neighbours who have got a river that separates them and they are talking to each other. That boundary, the Waveney, is something that should unite us in friendship rather than divide us in rivalry.”