Tories make council tax pledge
SUFFOLK Conservatives, in charge of the county council and leading all seven county district authorities for the first time in more than 25 years, have pledged to cut duplication of services as they battle to keep council tax rises to “an absolute minimum.
By Graham Dines
SUFFOLK Conservatives, in charge of the county council and leading all seven county district authorities for the first time in more than 25 years, have pledged to cut duplication of services as they battle to keep council tax rises to “an absolute minimum.”
Legal work will be the first under the microscope and a meeting of all Suffolk councils is to be held in July with new Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke indicating the authorities will work together “to reduce the cost of delivering services.”
The Tories took a stranglehold on Suffolk last week when they recaptured the County Council from Labour and the Liberal Democrats after 12 years, adding County Hall to the five districts where they have outright control and two others where they are in a joint administration.
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All eight council leaders are Conservatives.
In their manifesto for the County Council elections, the Tories pledged they would work “in true partnership, whenever it is practical to do so, to endeavour to reduce the overhead costs of delivering local government services to the people of Suffolk.”
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Mr Pembroke has already instructed the County Council's Chief Executive Mike More to freeze recruitment of all non-frontline staff until officers make a case for filling vacancies.
July's meeting of the eight Suffolk authorities at Melton will be chaired by Ray Herring, the Leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council.
He told the EADT: “There has been a massive change in the culture at the top of County Hall, with the new Tory administration saying it wants to co-operate with all the districts.
“We will be discussing how we can better work together. For instance, there are a number of front-line services where demarcation rules have led to duplication of staff.
“One example is road clearing. Districts are responsible in the main for sweeping the roads, but if there is more than one and a half inches of soil or sand on the highway, we have to call in the County Council for its workers to clear the debris.
“There is duplication in dealing with rights of way and economy of scale could be reached achieved in many back office services provided by the eight councils, such as legal work.
“Does it take eight legal departments to examine Government legislation and directives? Perhaps one council could take the lead role and give advice to the other seven.”
Mr Herring added: “This is not a merger by the back door - all councils will remain independent - but we must try to give council tax payers value for money as well as keeping rises to an absolute minimum.”
Mr Herring indicated changes would be brought in over a number of years. “We have to be sensitive to our current employees, but with continual pressure on our finances, and the demand of council tax payers for no more massive increases, we must look at ways to co-operating to save money.”
Malcolm Gibbs, acting Suffolk county branch secretary of trade union Unison, was unavailable to comment on the implications for his members.
The County Council employs 14 lawyers, seven paralegals and nine support staff, but much of their work involves child law, social care, and education which are the sole responsibility of County Hall.
Ipswich borough council's legal department of 16 has five solicitors.
Babergh employs three full time and two part time solicitors, Forest Heath two qualified solicitors out of a department of seven, Mid Suffolk has one solicitor out of four, St Edmundsbury two solicitors and two legal executives out of nine, and Suffolk Coastal has a department equivalent to four full time staff.
n County Council Tories are using the two weeks before the annual meeting of the council to put in place a number of other manifesto commitments. These include asking officers to draw up plans for a children's university, community wardens, and increased respite care for the families of the frail and elderly.
Headteachers are being asked if they want mandatory 20mph speed limits outside their schools and a programme is to be costed to reverse what the Tories claim were the previous administration's “cutbacks” to the maintenance of roads and pavements.