Babergh leader believes people will vote for council merger once they ‘know the facts’

BOXFORD Cllr John Ward was elected as leader of Babergh District Council.  Picture Mark Westley
BOXFORD Cllr John Ward was elected as leader of Babergh District Council. Picture Mark Westley

Babergh leader John Ward says he believes the public will vote in favour of plans to combine Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils into one authority, once they have seen the evidence of the proposal’s benefits.

Mr Ward, who was elected as leader at the start of 2018 after the resignation of Jennie Jenkins, confirmed the public referendum on the proposed merger is planned to take place in the summer, potentially as early as June, and he urged residents to have their say in the public consultation before it ends on Monday.

The proposal has been controversial, with even some councillors voicing their criticisms, due to a similar vote back in 2011, in which Babergh residents rejected the merger.

But Mr Ward told the Free Press this week that financial pressures on local authorities across the UK had increased significantly in the seven years since the last referendum.

He argued that once people had all of the information, they would agree combining into one authority was the most preferable option for the future.

“The climate we are operating in, with a reduction in local government funding and housing grants, means we are having to look at ways of generating revenue,” he said.

“If you cast your mind back 40 years to the last reorganisation, when Babergh was formed, that was a response to the pressures that local governments were facing.

“We are now well into the second decade of the 21st century and we are facing new pressures. Forming a new authority is, in our view, the best solution to addressing these pressures.

“We see it happening all around the country, not just in Suffolk. There is major reorganisation taking place in other authorities because we are all facing financial pressures. We can’t just ignore them.

“The way the evidence is stacking up, I think it will be conclusive. When people know the facts, I think they will definitely vote in favour.”

Mr Ward explained that when the public consultation period and telephone survey concludes, the responses would be collated and help form the business case, which will look at the financial aspects of the plan and ways of improving services.

He confirmed that residents will have a chance to see the details in the business case in another public engagement period, and be fully informed ahead of the referendum, adding that the council did not want to rush the process.

The current consultation runs until February 5.

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