Single council for Mid Suffolk and Babergh is back on the cards

Cabinet members for Mid Suffolk and Babergh district councils will meet at Endeavour House
Cabinet members for Mid Suffolk and Babergh district councils will meet at Endeavour House

Two district councils are to reconsider becoming a single authority - despite the plans being rejected six years ago.

Cabinet members from Mid Suffolk and Babergh District Council will be discussing the move at a public meeting at the King Edmund Chamber, Endeavour House, Ipswich next Friday at 9.30am.

The meeting to consider a new report by joint chief executive, Arthur Charnovia, will relaunch plans first mooted in 2011.

The original plans were put to public vote with voters in Mid Suffolk backing the merger but those in Babergh rejecting the proposal, largely due to fears council tax bills would rise.

This time there will be no public referendum but opinions will be sought.

The report by Arthur Charnovia recommends the merger take place on the basis it will save the two councils around £1m a year, build on existing working arrangements and allow the single council to ‘take a leading role in Suffolk, regionally, and nationally’.

Since 2011, Mr Charvonia, said: “Demand for our services, need, aspiration, funding and wider political and economic circumstances have changed significantly.”

According to the report, a saving of £2m per year across the two councils was achieved by 2014/15 through the sharing of officers and integrating services.

Moves are already underway for both councils to transfer staff to a joint headquarters at Endeavour House, the current home of Suffolk County Council.

Mr Charnovia says the new single council would need to decide the level of council tax across the two districts and that £158 per year for Band D properties would be sufficient to meet the budgetary need of £10,794 for 2018/19.

The Band D figures for 2017/18 were £153.86 for Babergh and £161.97 for Mid Suffolk, a difference of £8.11. The difference was later reduced by £2.39 when Babergh increased its rate by £5 and Mid Suffolk by £2.61 for the same period.

The report concludes, if the merger goes ahead, both councils should manage council tax over the next two years to further reduce the difference, suggesting that if Mid Suffolk froze its council tax rate in 2018/19, and Babergh increased by £5, equalisation could be achieved.

The report recommends both cabinets provisionally endorse the merger and that a ‘comprehensive public engagement’ take place this autumn to test public opinion.