Council merger called off

A HASTILY arranged marriage between two Norfolk councils is over after South Norfolk dumped Breckland at the altar over shared staff.

A HASTILY arranged marriage between two Norfolk councils is over after South Norfolk dumped Breckland at the altar over shared staff.

Plans to merge the senior management teams of the two councils and share a chief executive to create one “super district” authority was due to begin next month.

But the special relationship was called off after South Norfolk leaders blamed differences of opinion and raised a question mark over the savings projected in a business case.

The decision by South Norfolk's Conservative group means that its “preferred partnership” with Breckland Council was over and the authority was courting shared services deals with other councils.

The “amicable” split means that South Norfolk chief executive Sandra Dinneen will no longer take over as interim CEO for both councils next month. And it also leaves Breckland Council looking for a new chief executive when Trevor Holden takes on a new role with Luton Borough Council at the end of June.

A business case by consultant Solace Enterprises suggested that a joint chief executive, senior management and back room staff would result in �8.5m worth of savings for the two councils over the next four years. However, South Norfolk officials said on Friday that the actual projected savings only amounted to �1.5m over four years.

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John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said sharing services with Breckland seemed the most “elegant” and compatible solution when a preferred partnership agreement was signed last year. However, the Tory administration at South Norfolk got cold feet after failing to gel over differing “philosophies”.

“Shared services is very much on the agenda. We have been in an experimental period with Breckland during which the business case has highlighted a number of issues that we had not fully bottomed out and gave us food for thought whether it is right to have a preferred partner at this stage,” he said.

The two councils received �90,000 from the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership to develop a business case for shared services in the face of feared government public sector funding cuts.

Sandra Dinneen, South Norfolk Council chief executive, added that a quickly arranged partnership with Breckland endangered staff motivation and the quality of services.

“We are in a strong financial position and we are not desperate to jump into anything. We are committed to shared services, but we do not have to do it like a bull in a china shop,” she said.

A Breckland Council statement said: “The view of Breckland Council is that shared services is absolutely the right thing to do to ensure the continued delivery of high quality services for our residents in the face of reduced public spending. South Norfolk Council has always been our preferred choice of partner and we are disappointed to learn that they no longer wish to proceed.”

“Breckland Council remains committed to this initiative and we will endeavour to understand the reasons for this decision and to ensure that every opportunity is taken to put this process back on track in order to exploit the significant savings and benefits for our residents.”