Great Yarmouth and South Norfolk partnership plans shelved

The leader of South Norfolk Council said the authority could “look forward with confidence” despite Great Yarmouth Borough Council pulling out of partnership talks.

John Fuller was quizzed over how the council would bounce back after the shelving of the proposals, which formed a major strand in the authority’s bid to save �2.6m by the year 2014/15.

The two councils had been exploring possibilities for a cost-saving partnership since the beginning of the year and the option of a single officer corps had been considered.

But the move was sidelined last week after Great Yarmouth decided it presented “too many risks” for them at this stage. It followed South Norfolk’s withdrawal from a similar merger with Breckland Council last year.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr Fuller said the council was continuing to explore other avenues for savings, which included sharing services with other bodies, such as housing associations, and ways to utilise money through schemes such as the new homes bonus. He added that Great Yarmouth was still prepared to consider sharing services on a service-by-service base.

“We have always been careful with our reserves and fortunately, because of that, we’re in a stronger position to deal with the short-term set back over the shared services. Thanks to the quality of this council we’re in a better position to take advantage of any opportunities that come along,” said Mr Fuller.

“This (financial pressure) is not just before us but before all councils. People elect us to make the tough decision so they don’t have to. This council will rise to the challenge.”

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South Norfolk and Great Yarmouth had produced a business case into the merger of their management teams, which had been scrutinised internally and by external consultants.

Murray Gray, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, said: “I think the problem has been really that we have not won over hearts and minds. I think in the case of Breckland we did not win the hearts and minds of our members and with Great Yarmouth we did not win the hearts and minds of their members. There are lessons to be learned from this and that is we cannot drive things faster than others want to go. From my experience, Great Yarmouth was always trying to go slow and South Norfolk was trying to go faster.”

But Mr Fuller said Great Yarmouth’s approach had been initially “pushy”. “It is true to say they applied the brakes somewhat but to begin with they were very ambitious about the scale and the extent of the time frame. I do not think our officials can be faulted,” he said.