West Suffolk: Shared services bring £3.5million in savings for St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils

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Should we raid council reserves? - Credit: PA

The sharing of services between two west Suffolk councils will lead to year-on-year savings of £3.5million, it has been claimed.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Forest Heath District Council have said they are now successfully operating services with shared management and offices. Financial leaders have said the savings are £1m higher than originally anticipated.

The announcement follows the revelation that redundancy packages paid out during the shaping of the single management team cost the councils £2.7m – equating to each of the 48 departing employees receiving £56,832 each.

In what the council dubbed the ‘end of the beginning’, the Shared Services Steering Group (SSSG) – set up in 2009 to advise the councils in transition – has had its final meeting.

St Edmundsbury cabinet member for resources, David Ray, said: “As councillors we will be dealing with terrific budgetary challenges for the foreseeable future. Both councils have given such strong support to the shared services process that we have been able to make some really significant savings and we can be proud of what councillors and staff have achieved together. We would be in a dire place as councils without these savings, but there is still a long way to go and more is still needed so this isn’t the end, but for the SSSG it is the end of the beginning.”

Forest Heath cabinet member Rona Burt, who chaired the final meeting alongside Mr Ray, added: “What has been so encouraging is that staff haven’t waited for a formal line to be drawn or announcement made before cracking on with their colleagues to create new ways of working across west Suffolk. It is their commitment to making shared services really work well, to the benefit of our residents during a time of huge financial challenges, which has made this all possible. We have said farewell to some excellent staff and wished them well in their new futures and now are looking forward to working in innovative ways to deliver services.”

In July, the council said the cost of redundancies could rise further with the restructuring of five departments still to take place. The council said at that time they hoped the one-off payments would be cancelled out within 12 months.

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According to the authority’s statement of accounts, 14 employees earning under £20,000 were made redundant between 2011 and 2013 at a cost of £121,020. Just one person in the highest bracket of £200,001 to £250,000 was made redundant with an exit package of £216,306.