Conservative-run Buckinghamshire County Council and Labour-run Harrow Council have been quietly saving money by agreeing some joint working deals with each other. The latest installment covers Human Resources, including payroll.
Earlier this year there was a joint procurement agreement also involving Brent Council. They are also saving some money by using the same team of lawyers.
Good for them. It shows that different types of authorities can come together (in this case a London borough and a county council) as well as those controlled by different political parties.
There are plenty of other examples around the country. The Local Government Association says that councils are saving half a billion a year from shared service arrangements. That sounds like a lot. But given the council spending of £94 billion this year it is actually pretty pathetic. The tri-borough arrangements involving my own council of Hammersmith and Fulham along with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea probably go further than anywhere else in the country. But even the tri-borough has not yet reached anything approaching its full potential.
One of the tiresome claims from councils is that agreeing shared service arrangements is something they are “already doing” - and thus imply that any further efficiency savings are impossible. Then when you look at the details it becomes clear that their effort is derisory – a tiny fraction of what they could be doing if they were serious about achieving value for money for their residents.
A look down the LGA list certainly shows the variety on offer. But many of the initiatives are very modest. Music hubs. Adult substance misuse. Calibration test centres. Spare parts for fleet vehicles. Archaeology partnerships. Processing Freedom of Information requests. Shared emergency planning.
Of course innovation and efficiency are not only about saving money but improving services. Shared services don’t have to be between councils – they can, for example, involve the NHS, the police or the fire brigade.
After years of Council Tax freezes most households outside London are facing higher bills. This is quite unacceptable. The constant claim that there is “no alternative” is lazy and dishonest. The very limited progress regarding shared services means that those councillors voting for Council Tax increases should feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves.