It is that stakeholder engagement – involving local people in shaping the world around them – which makes it essential that any new unitary authority reflects its community's environment, culture, history and, most importantly, its aspirations for the future. The new authority needs to be big enough to work, and small enough to connect.
A unitary government solution for the county needs to balance the economies of scale which can be achieved for the efficient delivery of services with the spirit of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act's requirements for close engagement with, and empowerment of, communities. A unitary covering West Suffolk with another covering East Suffolk – both with their own unique challenges, economic pressures and sense of place, would provide that balance.
St Edmundsbury Council is currently formulating its "concept statement", which will be published with the papers for the next full council meeting (April 8th). This has to be submitted to The Boundary Committee who will then start the process of reviewing all submissions and coming to a decision towards the end of the year as to which they will recommend .
Do you have a view? Comment here so I can feed in your thoughts to the process. Or just take part in my poll.
Artist's impression - courtesy of SEBC
In the meantime the Bury St Edmunds Public Service Village (PSV) is an innovative partnership, initially between St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Suffolk County Council. West Suffolk House is the first phase of this development and is due to be open from January 2009.
Building progress - courtesy of SEBCIt will bring together a range of public sector services on one site, providing better, more cost-effective services and better value for money for customers. St Edmundsbury Borough Council's staff and Suffolk County Council’s staff in the west of Suffolk will work together in a purpose-built public sector building (West Suffolk House) on the site of St Edmundsbury House, Western Way.
The whole concept of the Public Service Village is not just about building a new office to replace old or outdated ones. It’s about changing the culture of the way councils work by bringing our services under one roof, making them easier for people to access. By investing in the new building and creating one centre for almost all their services, both councils can also make savings on the money we spend each year, allowing more to be spent on services instead of running offices.
It will work better for our customers too, by providing one site for those who need to access services from the two councils (currently at different offices around the town), with a shared reception to help with all enquiries. Bringing both groups together in one building provides the opportunity for much closer working and co-ordination of services.