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‘Compelling’ West Suffolk council consolidation plan gets initial DCLG stamp

Plans to create a West Suffolk council by combining Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council have received initial approval from Sajid Javid.

The communities and local government secretary said he was “minded to” approve the merger, which was first proposed in May this year.

The plan is intended to drive prosperity in the region by building on the already-successful working partnership between the two councils. It would mean creating a single district council that would be based on current council services and boundaries.

The two authorities have already achieved annual savings of £4m by sharing services but believe a formal agreement of this sort would allow for even more efficiencies and greater growth.

Javid said he was satisfied that the plans would meet the conditions he has previously set out for this kind of merger.

In response to the announcement, St Edmundsbury’s leader, Cllr John Griffiths, said the secretary of state’s approval was “great news” which reflected the “compelling argument” both councils had made.

“We have listened to local residents and organisations who agree lines on a map or council structures should not get in the way of providing services or hamper us from seizing opportunities for continued investment in our communities,” he explained.

“The case for creating a new single council was compelling and once again puts us at the forefront of transforming how local government works to benefit directly the people we serve. Not only can we continue to deliver high-quality services but we can better champion our area, drive the local economy, jobs and prosperity in West Suffolk while tackling the challenges facing all public services.”

Forest Heath councillor James Waters agreed with Griffiths’ assessment, adding that the speed of Javid’s response was a “clear indication” of the strengths of the merger’s business case.

He continued: “Doing what is right for our communities is at the heart of what we do. The benefits to our residents is clear and there is strong support from local people, businesses and local organisations.

“Staying still is not an option if we are to meet future challenges and better champion our communities, both locally and nationally, as well as continuing to deliver high quality services.

“This means we are not only in a better position to have a louder voice but a real opportunity to find even more effective ways to work more closely and support our local organisations and residents.”

Javid has set out three criteria that must be met for these mergers to receive approval, including reassurances that change will improve local government in the areas concerned.

He revealed that there will be a period between now and 19 January 2018 which will be set aside for the government to receive modifications on the implementation of the plans.

Top image: Whitemay

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