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Sussex councils consider business merger
Taxpayers could profit from tens of millions of pounds as town hall bosses consider merging part of their services into a business.
SE7 was formed in 2010 as an informal partnership between the seven largest councils in the region as a way to share services and make tens of millions of pounds of savings.
However, Peter Jones , leader of East Sussex County Council, has revealed there are plans to turn it into a formal trading company, which could be done as early as next year.
Coun Jones believes creating a business to oversee some of the council’s work, such as IT services, road repairs or waste collection, could make hundreds of millions of pounds of profit.
However others have questioned how accountable the “business” would be.
Coun Jones said: “We’re at the very early stage of considering it but what we’re beginning to think there are other ways we can benefit from this partnership.
“For instance looking at waste, we are thinking about ways to cut costs of about £150 million but also make a profit of £150 million.
“There are companies out there such as Capita and Serco which are making small fortunes doing outsourced contracts for local government bodies.
“I think there are some outstanding people in local government who in the right environment could do good for the general public.
“The last thing we want it to become is a quango.”
By 2014/15, it is predicted the seven local authorities, which includes West Sussex County and Brighton and Hove City councils, will have saved £74 million, with about £6 million for East Sussex County Council.
The same documents claim long-term savings of about £1.5 billion could be reached.
However, Carolyn Lambert, a Liberal Democrat councillor in East Sussex, said: “We call on the Conservatives to allow an open and transparent discussion of this issue with full council so that East Sussex ratepayers can decide whether or not this is an appropriate and cost effective way forward.”
A conference outlining the work SE7 is doing is planned in 2013 with Government ministers, Whitehall officials and other local authorities the target audience.
Brighton and Hove City Council leader Jason Kitcat said: “If we think about cooperative ownership I think any way we can work together, save money and perhaps make a profit which can stay in the public sector is certainly welcome.”
Becky Shaw, chief executive of East Sussex County Council, said: “The work of the SE7 continues to progress well and is fulfilling its remit to deliver service improvements and achieve savings.”