Breckland/South Norfolk council merger 'dead in the water'

Stephanie Brooks Plans for two Norfolk councils to share services are looking increasingly dead in the water after South Norfolk Council's cabinet agreed to end the deal.

Stephanie Brooks

Plans for two Norfolk councils to share services are looking increasingly dead in the water after South Norfolk Council's cabinet agreed to end the deal.

Members decided yesterday to halt joining forces with Breckland Council saying that the two authorities were 'simply not on the same page'.

Plans were agreed last month to temporarily merge the councils' senior management teams, headed by an interim joint chief executive, in an experiment they hoped would save up to �8m if permanently implemented.

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But leaders at South Norfolk soon announced they wanted to pull out citing concerns about a business case into the move.

Following yesterday's decision, the plans will still need to go before an overview and scrutiny committee and a full council meeting before the authority can finally shake itself free from the agreement.

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After the meeting, Breckland leader William Nunn said he was 'disappointed' that South Norfolk was working to formally withdraw from the merger, but his main priority would be to maintain and improve the quality of services for residents.

He said: “We know this will present us with a challenge given the prospect of severe cuts in public spending which are just around the corner for local authorities.

“With this in mind we will actively pursue other shared services opportunities and efficiencies that will minimise the impact of government cuts for people in Breckland."

Breckland is holding an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday to discuss its way forward.

Speaking before cabinet members, South Norfolk leader John Fuller said he had underestimated the 'cultural differences' between the two authorities after being 'mesmerised' by the amount of predicted savings.

“It's always embarrassing to lay out a stall and put the bits away but it's better to make the decision now then repent at leisure,” he said.

He presented a report outlining potential 'showstoppers' which had caused the u-turn, including a lack of political alignment between the councils, no clarity on how costs and savings would be shared and differing opinions on the pace of the changes.

But as reported in last week's Mercury, emails written by Mr Fuller sent to the Conservative group hinted that tensions had arisen after Breckland insisted on South Norfolk's chief executive Sandra Dinneen, who was to be the interim joint chief executive, applying for the top job again in an open competition after the terms of the temporary post ended.

Yesterday, Mr Fuller declined to go into further details, but said: “This was not just about the chief executive, although the way that Breckland chose to treat the chief executive and other members of staff was emblematic of their approach. I'm sorry to say she was not treated well.”

Murray Gray, leader of the council's Liberal Democrat group, said he supported walking away from the deal although he was concerned that the �90,000 grant used to fund the merger's feasibility study and business case, of which �60,000 was spent, had been wasted.

Mr Fuller said the money had been well spent as the business case gave the council a platform on which to approach any future merger plans.

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