The future of west Suffolk councils

Images form around west SuffolkNew single council for West Suffolk

Proposals to create a new West Suffolk Council to drive prosperity, jobs and meet future challenges have been backed by Government.

Both the House of Lords and House of Commons backed the proposals and the orders to create the new West Suffolk Council have been signed by the Secretary of State. The new shadow authority will meet on 30 May and includes councillors from both Forest Heath District and St Edmundsbury Borough Councils. The shadow authority will work to make the transition to the new council as smooth as possible, ready for it to be created in April 2019 and elections held in May 2019.

This follows in February this year an announcement of support by the Rt Hon Sajid Javid, MP, the then Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government following a period of engagement.

Both councils agreed to look at the creation of a new single council for West Suffolk to help better drive prosperity,  the economy and benefits for our communities.

A draft business case was produced which suggested that making no changes or going back to two separate councils would have a negative impact on achieving the aims of both authorities and services. It was found a single council could better meet the challenges facing our communities, such as increased population, demand on health care and reduced funding. At the same time it could better drive jobs, deliver services and continue investment to support our communities. In addition it would generate hundreds of thousands of pounds of savings and efficiencies.

The new council would entirely replace the borough and district council but continue to deliver the same services.

Already both councils successfully share services, for example collecting your bins or ensuring people can access the right housing – saving local taxpayers £4 million every year. We now want to look to build on these successes to bring about even more benefits and continue to invest even more into supporting our communities under a new single council.

A single council will allow us to better:

  • deliver services that are vital for our communities and businesses while at the same time driving forward an ambitious vision of growth, jobs and economic prosperity for our unique area
  • future-proof for the next decade and beyond - to ensure a firm financial base and stability to meet the challenges faced by our communities such as improving health, the need for more homes and reduced national funding
  • consolidate the savings and efficiencies we have made and make even more that can be reinvested to work with and benefit our communities.

It will mean the council is the right size to still deliver local and tailored solutions but also have a large and unified voice to champion the aspirations of our communities nationally and to attract new businesses.

In addition the new council aims to bring savings and efficiencies totalling around £800,000 every year. We also want to reassure you that services will continue and these savings and efficiencies will not be through cuts but through not needing double the amount of things we have now or increasing our capacity to do more.

Councillors agreed the business case should be looked at and a period of engagement held on its recommendations.

Since May last year (2017) we have been talking to our community and partners about the proposals as well as a period of engagement for people to find out about the plans and have their say. This included contacting partners, businesses and local organisations as well as a dedicated webpage where people could make their views known. A phone poll was also carried out by an independent company that was statistically representative. That period of engagement finished on 31 August, 2017, and the findings and comments helped inform the decisions of councillors and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in moving the proposals forward.

A cross party councillor steering group was set up to look at various issues to also help inform any proposals going forward. This includes the number of councillors the new council would have. We have also set up a page to help answer some of the common questions

Councillors met on 26 September (St Edmundsbury Borough Council) and 27 September (Forest Heath District Council) to look at the updated business case and consider the views expressed during the engagement – which were broadly supportive of the proposals.

Both councils and their cabinets agreed proposals for a new council should go forward and an application was made to the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State announced on 30 November, 2017 he was minded to implement the plan which then saw a parliamentary order made to enable the change to happen ready for 2019. He heard further representations until 19 January 2018 before making a final decision to support. The Orders were then debated and supported by members of the House of Lords and House of Commons.

Benefits

The new single council will give the area a greater ability to:

 

  • be stronger and financially resilient to surpass the challenges of reduced public funding and any changes to local government
  • be the right size to continue to support our local villages, towns and communities but with a larger and stronger unified voice to more effectively lobby Government and attract internationally recognised businesses
  • have a unified strategic vision for the whole area enabling us to be even more pro-active and able to capitalise on commercial opportunities
  • continue the shared service working that has saved millions and build on this to deliver even better value and savings to invest back into high quality services and local community initiatives
  • be better placed to offer extra support in many areas particularly working with communities to improve health and wellbeing
  • have the leadership available to work more effectively with partners and others to manage increased growth, jobs and challenges that will drive the local economy and benefit our communities
  • make sure we can provide more and the right kind of homes for our residents and cut unnecessary red tape for local businesses and traders
  • keep the same overall boundaries as the borough and district council our communities call home while having the long term stability to deliver high quality services.

Creating the electoral wards for the West Suffolk Council

As part of the creation of the new West Suffolk Council the number of councillors will be reduced from 72 to 64. This requires a review of the ward boundaries for the whole of West Suffolk using the parish council boundaries as building blocks. The decision on how this will change is down to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and not the councils.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has published their draft recommendations for the West Suffolk Council ward boundaries. They will be consulting on their ward boundaries between now and 27 August 2018. You can view the draft recommendations at http://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/eastern/suffolk/west-suffolk. The page includes interactive maps, a report detailing the recommendations and details of how to respond to their consultation.

Timetable for the electoral review

10 January 2018 to 12 February 2018: Engagement with local communities took place to understand the important considerations in their local area (for example which parishes work closely together, ‘natural’ boundaries).

February 2018 to March 2018: Councils analysed responses to the survey and drafted potential options for warding.

March 2018: Engagement on the councils draft ward proposals took place West Suffolk Council - electoral review consultation 7-28 March 2018.

Early April 2018: Councils considered feedback and updated ward proposals.

April 2018: The final council proposals were considered by Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils. Proposals were submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Summer 2018: Following the signing of the Orders to create West Suffolk Council the LGBCE will meet to consider the draft proposals put forward by the councils and any other people who made submissions. The LGBCE will then put forward a draft proposal themselves, and submit this for public consultation throughout the summer. Final patterns will be published in October for consideration by Parliament.

Electorate forecast

As part of the review process we have been asked to produce a five-year electorate forecast. Preparing electorate forecasts is not a science and assumptions have to be made and applied consistently. Using an agreed methodology, the West Suffolk electorate is forecast to be 131,501 at December 2023.

The new West Suffolk Council will be represented by 64 district councillors (eight fewer than the current arrangements for Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils) and will require a new warding structure which achieves electoral equality by having a ratio of 2,055 (+ or - 10%) electors to each councillor.

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