The bestofhaverhill welcomed Ian Gallin, Joint Chief Executive of Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council to their monthly networking meeting at Days Inn Haverhill last week. Ian addressed an audience of over 40 representatives from local businesses and the voluntary sector.
Ian gave an insight into the challenges that councils face across the country, explaining that the need to save money and avoid duplication of services was an issue for all councils. However he was keen to emphasise that there was no standard solution; the vision for one town could not be used a blueprint for other towns, each town and community needed to develop its own vision.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Forest Heath District Council had recognised that they could save money by changing the way they delivered all their frontline services – something they have already been doing successfully with their waste management service.. Both councils are still separate entities but the staffing structure will be shared.
A management restructure has reduced the number of senior managers across the two councils from 20 to 12, including one Chief Executive, two directors and nine heads of service. Better integration of services has resulted in savings of more than £870,000 during the first year; the aim is to save £2.3 million and there were several building blocks in place to move towards this target.
The councils were working with staff and the unions to move to a single pay line. The way services were delivered was also under scrutiny and the aim was to drive out work that wastes customers’ time and make it easier for people to access the services. This will mean introducing more self service, giving 24/7 access using automated IT systems with support for people who weren’t as able to use the self service option. There would always be flexibility within the system for people who had complex needs, or required access to more than one service.
Talking specifically about Haverhill Ian commented on the pot of £750,000 that had been allocated for High Street improvements; the success of One Haverhill and the availability of small grants to support innovation from the community. He also mentioned the work that the Borough had undertaken with the Haverhill Research Park and the Local Enterprise Partnerships to secure funding for the development and he spoke about the feedback from the consultation exercise carried out earlier this year as part of the Vision 2031 project.
The main issues that had come out of the consultation focused on transport with concerns over the safety of the A1307 and the quality of links to Stansted, Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds. The balance between jobs and houses and the need to build sustainable communities with the right infrastructure was another matter people felt strongly about.
There were lots of issues raised about the town centre – pedestrianisation, the need for a wider master plan, car parking and the future of the High Street. Ian concluded by saying that to resolve the challenges the town was facing would require strong partnerships, shared solutions and clarity of vision.
He affirmed his commitment to saving money, improving services and facilitating the delivery of the vision of the local community.
Elaine Carr, owner of thebestofhaverhill comments, “This was an interesting meeting with a number of people asking questions and expressing their concerns. Several guests stated that they had heard the same concerns raised at countless other meetings over the last ten years.
The pedestrianisation of the High Street, the need for a railway line and station, the disparity between the growth of the town and the infrastructure and the adequacy of the retail offer in the town centre were longstanding problems and that it would be good to start taking some of these issues off the agenda.
The appointment of a Head of Economic Development and Growth by St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath may help our case but I think the different organisations within Haverhill need to continue shouting, very loudly, in order to move forward and realise our vision for our town.”