February 10, 2021 4.40 pm This story is over 33 months old

“Based on hope”: South Holland councillors scrutinise Breckland break-up

Dark clouds of devolution and financial strain as contract ends

South Holland District Councillors raised concerns over the costs and strengths of the authority’s divorce from a 10-year partnership from Breckland District Council.

However, at the meeting of the Joint Performance Monitoring Panel on Tuesday they agreed to move forward with the plans which could include the formation of a new local partnership.

It comes as the district looks to strengthen ties with its East Coast neighbours in Lincolnshire.

Councillor Tracey Ann Carter questioned council officer’s predictions adding: “The preferred option [to create a new partnership] is basically ambition – it’s a hope.”

Chairman Bryan Alcock said the predicted difference between working standalone and having a new partnership with a council closer to home was smaller than he expected.

He added he was sceptical that the council could cover the workload that could come adding: “I don’t believe we’ve got a lot of slack in the organisation”.

He warned that with the potential for devolution in the future, the authority could go through a “traumatic time” dealing with “several years of very serious workloads”.

Councillor Andrew Charles Tennant asked if the authority was “happy to throw a million pounds a year savings away on ifs and buts”.

Meanwhile, Councillor Andrew Woolf asked “what’s gone wrong?” after officers’ appraisals placed the existing arrangements at the bottom of the options for moving forward.

South Holland District Council members scrutinised the plans on Tuesday.

Concerns were also raised about previous issues with a “neighbouring council” which had previously rejected them.

Councillor Jack Daniel McLean asked “what’s changed there if we have to come up with some more local partnership?”

Councillor Alcock added: “As far as one [council] was concerned, I’d want a money back guarantee for the simple reason that on the last occasion, we spent quite a lot of money in that direction, only to be jilted at the altar.”

Boston Borough Council was due to join the Compass Point organisation SHDC created with East Lindsey District Council over a decade ago, however, pulled out at the last minute.

It is currently in the process of again deciding whether to join what is now called the Public Sector Partnership Services.

Nathan Elvery, head of paid service at SHDC, said officers based their report on case studies and lessons learned, and that “this is the right option for South Holland moving forward.”

He said the partnership achieved what it aimed to, but that the two councils were operating in “different spaces” and distance meant some opportunities had not been available to both councils.

“It isn’t suggesting the as-is model is a failure, far from it,” he said.

“There are savings that you have already achieved and those that you can achieve moving forward,” he added.

“What you have here is the opportunity to take your organisation in a new direction which would deliver greater opportunity to your local places, and a closeness of geography that allows you to pursue some of those benefits, opportunities and savings with a new partner much closer to home,” he said.

“You take your own agenda in your own hands and you become masters of your own destiny.”

He added the contract and consultation would consider how around 47 affected staff would be “allocated” across the two councils.

He said doing the work now would allow changes which may need to be made in future years to be taken in “bite-size” chunks.

Councillor Chris Brewis said he shared people’s concerns but added: “I believe that working together in partnership is bound to be more efficient and more effective and the nearer they are and the more you have in common with them, the more likely it is to be effective.”

The plans will be debated at future meetings as well.