Council structure set for 'fundamental shift'

PLANS for a 'fundamental' overhaul of Suffolk County Council and the way it delivers services have been announced, but details of where the authority will make its cuts remain under wraps.

PLANS for a 'fundamental' overhaul of Suffolk County Council and the way it delivers services have been announced, but details of where the authority will make its cuts remain under wraps.

Over the coming months senior councillors and officers will discuss how to deliver services in the future on a significantly reduced budget before they are unveiled in detail in September.

At a meeting later this month the council's cabinet will be asked to agree in principle the proposed model for a 'reshaped' council and allow a team to undertake further work on fine-tuning the savings that need to be made.

These will include sweeping cuts to services and in some areas communities will be asked to step in and 'take ownership' of assets, while more will be asked of the voluntary sector as the council seeks to 'do less and deliver less'.

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The full membership will then be asked to agree to implement the 'evolving model' at its meeting on September 23.

A report outlining the 'reshaping' of the council, written by head of policy Sue Roper, explains the proposed model is based on a 30pc reduction in costs over the next three years in order to meet the demands of the financial situation and the changes would be phased in from April next year, ending in September 2012.

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In the report Mrs Roper says: 'In the new political and financial context the council will need to be smaller, more able to help our communities to help themselves and better networked with other parts of the public sector.

'The council would work to ensure the right conditions exist to enable individuals and communities to take control over what happens to them and the services they receive.

'This would mean the council moves from its current mix of service commissioning and service delivery to supporting and enabling other enterprises to provide services to people in Suffolk.

'Some currently provided services will not be provided in the future - unless there is a market for these outside the public sector. The council will do less and provide less than it does currently as its budget will be smaller.

'To achieve this reduction there needs to be an honest conversation with Suffolk's communities about: their expectations, what they need and what they can do for themselves and for others.'

She said the proposed model was a 'fundamental shift' in the council's role and would produce a significant change in the size and shape of the organisation, with an unspecified number of jobs set to be cut.

She added: 'The council will be small and highly skilled and therefore require fewer and much simplified back office functions. There will need to be a cultural change to support the change in role. The council will need to be less process orientated, less risk averse and more commercial in its approach.'

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said the result would be a smaller council, working in partnership with borough and district authorities and with community groups.

He said: 'We will work much closer with districts and boroughs and the health and the PCT and working with the voluntary sector, who have a big role to play in developing the new strategic direction.'

Although Mr Pembroke could not specify which services would be affected by the reshaping, enforced after the new coalition government announced a deficit reduction programme and its policy of 'lesser government and bigger society', he said savings would be made wherever possible.

He said: 'The alternative is to 'salami slice' services and end up with the whole thing on the rails. Over the next few years the council will be smaller and the role of the councillor will be very important. A number of our councillors are very involved already and this (reshape) will enhance their role.

'Historically, councils shave always tended to be too structured, we need to be more about innovation, (with) less bureaucracy and the ability to move quickly. We need to be responsive to the needs of people.'

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