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Councils vote on next step to set up single authority

Council leaders James Waters, of Forest Heath District Council, left, and John Griffiths of St Edmundsbury Borough Council.'Picture Mark Westley
Council leaders James Waters, of Forest Heath District Council, left, and John Griffiths of St Edmundsbury Borough Council.'Picture Mark Westley

The two West Suffolk councils will next week have to endorse the policies necessary to form one new council.

Last week Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced his backing for a single council, born of St Edmundsbury Borough and Forest Heath District Councils.

So at their full meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday the councils need to approve the policies necessary to implement it and agree to delegate certain powers to their joint chief executive and their Future Governance Steering Group’s chairman and vice-chairman.

Delegated powers have been requested by the ministry to ensure minor drafting amendments made by the Government to the parliamentary orders required can be resolved quickly so it does not run out of parliamentary time.

A report for next week’s meetings says two parliamentary orders will be required. The first relates to how the Secretary of State has to consider the move. The second is on how the current councils will be dissolved and a new one created.

The new council likely to be called West Suffolk District Council, but which may use West Suffolk Council ‘for branding’.

A shadow council will be created to oversee the period until the new council comes into being on April 1, 2019. The Shadow Council is likely to be of all members of the two councils, who are expected to remain councillors until four days after the first West Suffolk election on May 2, 2019.

The pattern of wards is currently being discussed but the report says the parliamentary order will have to have a ‘notional warding pattern as a stop-gap’.

St Edmundsbury’s leader John Griffiths said: “Not only can we continue to deliver high quality services but we can better champion our area, drive the local economy, jobs and prosperity.”

Forest Heath leader James Waters added: “Staying still is not an option if we are to meet future challenges and better champion our communities, both locally and nationally, as well as continuing to deliver high quality services.”

One question that will have to wait until after a new council has been formed is whether it will have a Mayor. St Edmundsbury has a mayor because it is a borough where Forest Heath and the new West Suffolk are districts.

A council spokesman said: “It’s not a merger of the councils, but the creation of a new council and it’s for the new council to decide whether it wants to be a borough.”

Next week’s council meetings will also see votes on Council Tax rates. St Edmundsbury plans no rise but Forest Heath’s Cabinet decided on Tuesday to raise Band D by £4.95 a year – the equivalent of 3.6 per cent but under the £5 limit that would need a referendum.

The average Forest Heath home is Band B for whom the rise is £3.85.

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