Council looks to share to avoid “doomsday”

The leader of South Norfolk Council warned that the authority faced making 'doomsday' cuts if it did not work with neighbouring councils to share services.

The district council has signalled a council tax freeze for the forthcoming year, but warned that the only way to protect front-line services in the future was to 'pal up' with other authorities.

South Norfolk Council will be dipping into �433,000 of 'rainy day' reserves in a bid to balance the books and avoid a tax rise in 2011/12.

But leader John Fuller warned that leisure facilities and community activities could be at risk if the authority, which has a projected �2.6m funding gap in three years, did not share with other councils.

Officials at South Norfolk Council are in detailed discussions with their 'preferred partner' Great Yarmouth Borough Council to team up and make savings, which could happen after the May elections.

Mr Fuller said the council would be faced with a 'doomsday' scenario of cuts if it did not share services.

'We still remain financially strong, but we must recognise the enormity of the gap in 2013/14 and that is why we are embarking on discussions with neighbours to share overheads and spread them thinly and protect front-line services. We are being forced by national and financial pressures to pal up with neighbours,' he said.

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It comes after South Norfolk's overall government grant was slashed from �8.4m to �6.9m for 2011/12 and it is braced for similar funding cuts in the next three years.

At meetings later this month, Great Yarmouth Borough and South Norfolk councils will be asked to agree a course of action over the next three months to be ready to share services after the May elections. The partnership could result in the sharing of a chief executive and services such as refuse collections.

Mr Fuller warned that while residents in both districts had not really noticed the impact of significant cost-cutting over the past 18 months, there would be no way of cushioning them in two years time if both authorities chose to continue on their own.

'We have done some analysis in South Norfolk that shows that if we stay alone, we would not even be able to do all our statutory services in two years time, and there would be no discretionary services. All councils are facing a doomsday situation. The government has given us two years to get our houses in order and it would a dereliction of duty not to respond to the financial signals,' he said.

Yarmouth council leader Barry Coleman said the proposed tie-up with South Norfolk council was not a 'shotgun marriage'.

Both leaders yesterday said they would look to make staff savings through natural wastage rather than compulsory redundancy.

South Norfolk's council tax level will be officially set at a full council meeting on February 21. If approved, householders will see a third council tax freeze in four years. South Norfolk's precept for an average band D property will remain at �130.68, if approved. However, the average parish precept is set to rise by 0.7pc in 2011/12.