Babergh and Mid Suffolk council merger to be recommended at meeting tomorrow

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils are to reconsider a potential merger – despite the plans being rejected in a referendum six years ago.

A joint cabinet session will take place at Endeavour House in Ipswich tomorrow to discuss a proposal to dissolve both councils and replace them with a single authority.

Plans to merge the two councils were first mooted in 2011 and put to a public vote, in which they were backed by Mid Suffolk voters but rejected by Babergh residents, largely due to fears that council tax bills would increase.

But a new report by the councils’ joint chief executive Arthur Charnovia recommends the merger take place, arguing it will save the two councils around £1 million a year, as well as build on existing working arrangements and allow the single council to adopt “a leading role in Suffolk”.

He stated that, since 2011, the demand for services, needs, aspirations, funding, and the wider political and economic circumstances had changed significantly.

“It makes sense that alongside a consultation on the joint local plan, we also consider what type of local government arrangements will be needed to deliver the vision and ambitions contained in the joint local plan,” said Mr Charvonia.

“Simply doing more of the same is unlikely to enable the councils to effectively address our future challenges, nor leave us best placed to deliver the ambitions and opportunities our residents want and deserve to see.

“It is therefore important that both councils carefully consider this and listen to the views of our residents, stakeholders and staff.”

If both council cabinets provisionally endorse the plans at tomorrow’s meeting, a public engagement period will be held to find out local views on the proposal.

Labour councillor Luke Cresswell, recently elected to Babergh’s Sudbury South ward, accused the council leaders of “astonishing arrogance”, arguing the vote in 2011 showed there was no public desire for such a merger.

“Dissolving the council and merging it with Mid Suffolk formed no part of the policies on which its current leadership stood for election,” said Cllr Cresswell.

“It was never mentioned in their literature or during their election campaign. There’s no popular mandate for it whatsoever.

“That more than 60 per cent of local people voted against a merger when they were asked is conveniently ignored.

“And there are no plans at present to let the council as a whole debate the matter. It’s more than just high-handed – it’s an astonishing level of arrogance worthy of a Soviet-era politburo.”

Tomorrow’s meeting comes after plans to relocate both Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils to new headquarters in Ipswich hit a big roadblock, following a dispute over proposed parking arrangements that resulted in staff on both councils being issued with redundancy notices.

Workplace conciliation service Acas is now mediating negotiations between the councils and trade unions over the terms of the relocation, which has been delayed for at least two months.