Residents ‘confused’ over council integration after merger snub

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Babergh residents may not understand the difference between the council’s integration with Mid Suffolk and a full merger, according to councillors.

More than 60 per cent of 31,468 voters said no to the creation of one council covering both areas during a public poll in June 2011.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils have since pressed ahead with an integration and transformation process to combine the delivery of services and back-office functions, including more than halving its management structures. A 90-day-consultation on the integration of all remaining staff into single teams is ongoing.

Simon Barrett, Conservative district councillor for Sudbury South, said: “From the layperson’s point of view, it looks as if it is a merger but it is not.

“There are two separate councils but behind that level, it is merging – the back office functions are integrating.”

He said that he believed some residents did not understand what they were voting on in the referendum.

“People said they didn’t want it but I don’t think they really understood it totally,” said Mr Barrett.

“If you are not completely involved it is difficult to comprehend but the bottom line is you still have two separate councils.”

“We have still got £1.3million in savings to find and it is how we are going to do it. Where these savings are coming from is the integration, we don’t have two teams doing the same jobs.”

Mr Barrett said decisions would need to be made in future over the number of district councillors needed.

“Long term, that will change,” he said. “Is it really necessary to have 83 councillors in Babergh and Mid Suffolk?

“As members we have to look at that and ask ‘Is this right?’, we are asking all the staff to reduce.”

Jack Owen, Labour councillor for Sudbury East, said Babergh had retained control over local issues, including car parking, while he and other councillors had raised the issue of the integration and scrutiny of it in the past.

“From the outside, you couldn’t fail to feel that we are working very closely on various functions,” he said.

“Members of the public may have difficulty in seeing a vast difference but things that are key to us – our market towns and our people – we retain influence on.”

Free Press reader Luke Cresswell, commenting on Twitter, said: “People don’t fully understand the difference. Accountability, democracy and sovereignty is being damaged and money put first.”

Mary Munson, Liberal Democrat councillor for Hadleigh North, said: “It could be misconstrued by the public that a merger has taken place but it hasn’t. Our finances are separate, the direction we’re going in is separate.”

Mrs Munson said she felt it was too early to evaluate the success of the integration.

“People are in new jobs and this has to be proven,” she said. “Within a year, you can’t pronounce what is wrong and what is right – give it another year and then review it.”