The Government has given its backing to two innovative projects designed to improve public sector services across West Suffolk while saving money to the taxpayer.
A partnership of Forest Heath District Council, St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Suffolk County Council has been accepted onto the Government’s One Public Estate programme.
It means that projects such as the creation of a hub of public services in Mildenhall, and the second phase of the Public Service Village in Western Way, Bury St Edmunds, will benefit not only from Government funding, but also from its assistance in carrying the projects forward.
The One Public Estate initiative has been set up to support public service schemes that promote economic growth, reduced running costs, that allow for the selling off of surplus buildings, and most importantly allow for a better integration of services that are more focused at meeting the needs of customers.
In Mildenhall, the spirit of the hub project is already underway with a planning application being considered for the temporary relocation of the gym from the Mildenhall Dome to the council offices. The Job Centre moved into the council offices in April, which are also already shared with Suffolk County Council and health services.
In the longer term, the ambition is to bring council, education, health, leisure, and police services all under one roof – making it easier for customers to access services, while saving the partners money by sharing costs.
Cllr James Waters, leader of Forest Heath said: “We are already on the case, leading the way by working towards creating a unique hub of services that will deliver better services, while saving money.
“It is great news that the Government has recognised the value in what we are doing, and has thrown its weight behind the project, giving us greater flexibility and freedom to take this forward to its next exciting stage.”
There is a similar aspiration at the Public Service Village in Bury. St Edmundsbury and Suffolk County Council have been sharing offices at West Suffolk House since 2009 and were recently joined by the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group.
The council, alongside Suffolk County Council, is currently exploring the opportunity to relocate its depot from Western Way, together with the Household Waste Recycling Centre from Rougham Hill, to a new site off Compiegne Way. That site could also house a new Waste Transfer Station.
In turn the move would free up land at Western Way to allow an opportunity for the second phase of the Public Service Village project, bringing more partners to one centre, allowing the various partners to reduce their budgets while protecting those services that are most important to their customers.
Cllr John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury said: “We are the trailblazers for delivering on innovative and ambitious schemes, which not only benefit the taxpayer by saving money, but our residents and businesses by improving access to our services.
“We have been in our innovative shared building at West Suffolk House for five years now. But it was never our intention to stop there. Our plans to relocate our depot are ambitious, but should the business case stack up, it will offer us an exciting opportunity for the Western Way site.”
Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury were part of a wider One Public Estate bid made by Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils.
Suffolk County Council, cabinet member for Resource Management and Waste, Cllr Jenny Antill, said: “This puts us in an even stronger position to speak to our partners in health, the emergency services, and other agencies about working more closely together to achieve the very best for the people we serve. Our acceptance onto the One Public Estate programme will strengthen our arm in taking these projects forward.”
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Business, Enterprise and Energy said: “Only 20 local authorities have been chosen for the second phase of the One Public Estate programme so I am absolutely delighted that West Suffolk is one of them. This means the Government has fully recognised our local councils’ great capabilities, enabling them to deliver more integrated and people focused services, while still reducing costs.
“I look forward to seeing impressive transformations in the services in the local area and thank everyone at the councils for all their hard work in what they’ve achieved so far.”