Council Merger Talks

17:12 Friday 4th February 2011
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: Reports today that three district councils in Cambridgeshire could merge. Fenland, East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire District Councils are said to be considering coming together in a bid to save money. We can speak to the Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council now. He’s Cllr. Fred Brown. Evening to you Fred.
FRED BROWN: Good evening Andy.
ANDY BURROWS: Well, I suppose, are you considering combining some services?
FRED BROWN: The answer is we’re always looking every day at ways to make savings. And combining the services, whichever services that may be, is on the agenda, has been for quite some considerable time.
ANDY BURROWS: I think that perhaps that’s no great surprise, is it, given the financial situations that a lot of local authorties find themselves in at the moment? Do you have any idea at this stage of the kind of timeline as to whether this could happen in the future?
FRED BROWN: We’ve got, obviously, as you appreciate, a four-year cycle in the elections, both in Fenland and East Cambridgeshire. And that would be the sort of time period. We’d be looking to try and achieve the savings over that period. As you can appreciate, individually, we’re all under extreme pressure with the budgets and central government restrictions placed upon us. What we’ve been doing for some time is talking about shared services across the piece. This meeting is in March, and we though we’d bring all of our elected Members and our particular Conservative groups together, to discuss the agenda, and see which way they wish to progress.
ANDY BURROWS: Do you have any idea at this stage what it would mean for jobs? Because almost certainly there would be a duplication of services across the authorities.
FRED BROWN: Well as far as we’re concerned, that really isn’t the issue at the moment. As you know, unfortunately all of us have had to make huge savings in this financial year, and for the next three years. That does bring about redundancies, and at this stage the reason that the letters went out to Conservative Members in a confidential manner was so that we didn’t do this very thing, which was put everybody on the anxious circuit once again. Because that clearly is wrong. What we want to do is look at the possibilities, examine all of the agenda, and see where we can actually go with this, and how quickly or how slowly we need to progress. No mention at all has been made of jobs, timescales or whatever. At this stage, as I’ve said, we’ve not met as Members yet. Once we do, they might turn round quite frankly and say that’s enough, we’ve done enough, if it’s caused all this fuss we won’t do any further.
ANDY BURROWS: It would be, I say no great surprise, given that all three authorities are close together, and need to look to save money. But at the same time it sounds complicated as well. If you say you’re looking at maybe combining your services to pick up people’s bins, for instance. Then, I don’t know how many of the authorities we’re talking about have contracts with people, whether you do it in-house, and how long those contracts last for.
FRED BROWN: Well in fact Fenland and Huntingdonshire do it themselves. And we are contracted out. And clearly that poses problems. That service clearly is not up for savings at this particular round. But we’ve got to look to the future, and if past experience is anything to go by, this year for instance, we’re not going to get formula funding of any great extent in the future. So it may be, in three, four, five years time, that’s where it takes us with a united refuse service for all of us. That would make ever so much sense, and we would then obviously benefit from the economies of scale.
ANDY BURROWS: Well we thank you for your time. The meeting takes place next month, does it? Is that what you said?
FRED BROWN: Next month on the 7th, at Huntingdon. And we will then find out whether there’s any spirit for this, or whether the Members just want to sort out two services, one service, or maybe none at all. But if it ultimately leads to us joining up, then progression will be made.
ANDY BURROWS: That was Fred Brown, that was. He is the Leader of East Cambridgeshier District Council.