Secret talks over merger

SECRET meetings have been held by leaders of three local councils about the possibility of a merger between the authorities.

Staff were told in a memo from Fenland Council’s Chief Executive, Sandra Claxton, late on Thursday afternoon, entitled: ‘From the horse’s mouth - special announcement’ - about the discussions which have been going on “for some time”.

Fenland’s leader Alan Melton, confirmed he had been in talks with fellow leaders from neighbouring East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdon district Councils for many months.

He said the move made sense because it would result in huge savings during a period of immense cutbacks and could even result in Council Taxpayers saving money on their bills, or front-line services being maintained.

Mr Melton said the authorities are currently paying out for three chief executives, three senior management teams and various other layers of bureaucracy.

Merging could result in the need for just one each of these, which Mr Melton said would result in massive savings.

Services would also be combined again resulting in “millions of pounds worth of savings” although Mr Melton said it was too soon to say exactly how much could be saved by the move, which he emphasised was still in the “embryonic stages of being looked at.”

Mr Melton said it was not a straight forward exercise and would involve a great deal of legislation and negotiation and said in the long run it would be up to members of the three authorities to decide. He said it could be a simple matter of just sharing services, or it could mean a full merger.

“It is interesting to point out that we’re talking about something the coalition government has been encouraging local authorities to do - more cooperation to save money and it makes sense for us to consider it when there is so much synergy between the three authorities.

All are based on market towns and rural communities,” said Mr Melton.

But he said it was too early to say whether or not the merger would see a reduction in councillors, although he said any new authority born out of the merger would result in members having to be re-elected.

Mr Melton also emphasised there was no time-scale for the proposals at this time.

However, Mrs Claxton’s letter to staff said: “All members of the three councils have been notified of this proposal today with an invitation to a joint member meeting on Monday, March 7; the aim being to seek a consensus to explore the potential of the proposal.

“I emphasise the word explore as the proposal will only go ahead if members from all three districts are in agreement.

“I appreciate that this is a bit of a bombshell message for you to digest but I wanted you to hear it first from me rather than from others.

“Clearly, if this proposal becomes a reality, it will be a radical approach to responding to a number of key issues for each district.”