Norfolk hasn't exactly been at the fore in terms of Party unity for Conservatives over the last few weeks but at two Tory councils in the county, Breckland and South Norfolk, the leaders John Fuller and William Nunn have agreed to further explore a "Two Councils – Best of Both" concept for future collaboration and service delivery. Other Councils have run joint services before but these plans sound more radical than anything seen elsewhere.
Last week, the leaders outlined to a joint meeting of their respective councillors how the proposal might improve service delivery to residents at lower costs, at a time of an unprecedented financial squeeze on local authorities.
With keeping Council Tax as low as possible an imperative, a process of due diligence, will now seek to identify innovative ways to improve services for residents and business, build resilience, reduce duplication and enhance value for money.
Other Councils have announced joint-working arrangements before but many of these have been in response to the need to address urgent financial problems or as a result of an external shock.
In this case, both councils have already delivered substantial savings in response to the recession within the discipline of working to a balanced budget. This latest move is despite the Government's wasteful restructuring plans, which have already come expensively unstuck in other parts of the country.
This isn't just about cutting costs. Both authorities to start to combine services at the optimum economies of scale so there will be opportunities for promotion and advancement by staff by more effectively providing services that are currently provided by other bodies, including regional quangoes.
Cllr Fuller says:
"The opportunity for us to work more closely as Norfolk's only 'Excellent' Council with Breckland, which has England's lowest Council Tax is too good to miss. Service levels will benefit and future tax rises will be lower than would otherwise be the case. It's a win-win situation for everyone, but especially local people."
Cllr Nunn says:
"We intend to examine every element of our services to establish the most cost effective way of delivering the highest possible standards. It will be important to include the views of residents and parish councils when the initial detailed proposals are formulated over the next few months."
The leaders reject suggestions that their plans amount to "unitary through the back door." They feel it is a way of maintaining local control of vital community services at a scale that local residents will recognise and relate to but at a price they can afford.