Saving admin costs through councils jointly delivering services is becoming more widespread. But the initiative of my council, Hammersmith and Fulham with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea is pretty radical. The announcement is leading the Radio 4 Today programme bulletins. Savings could be between £50 million and £100 million a year.
It does still allow for political differences between the boroughs. For instance when we were discussing the proposals I asked if the criteria for closing or opening a school or a library could be different in one borough to another – I was assured it could be. Councillors will still make the decisions in their own boroughs – this is about the delivery of the services being more efficient.
Here is the joint statement from Cllr Colin Barrow, Leader, Westminster City Council, Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell, Leader, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on service mergers between the three authorities, following the CSR statement, launching a project to merge services with plans to be agreed by February 2010.
"In challenging times our priority is to protect high quality front-line public services, while preserving the democratic sovereignty of local authorities.
"Ensuring we can provide a high standard of local services in today’s tough economic climate means thinking differently about how we operate, concentrating on what's important to the people we serve and ensuring we continue to care for the most vulnerable in our communities. Our residents would expect nothing less.
"To achieve this in the age of austerity we need to seriously examine new ways of working including sharing service provision with other local authorities to deliver more for less.
"That is why this week we have met and decided to potentially share every council service between our three councils. This may include merging services to reduce duplication and drive out needless cost. While we won’t rule anything out at this stage, we expect to focus quite quickly on a few major areas where sharing and merging services is viable and good for the public. There are a number of areas, such as core democratic services where we are unlikely to merge provision.
"The early focus will be building on the initial work to merge our children’s services departments which is already making solid progress, while also building the business case to share our adults’ services departments.
“We will only go forward where there is a clear democratic, social and economic case to do so.
"In the coming weeks we will set up a series of working groups to develop and study options for three main areas: environmental services, family services and corporate services.
"Our Chief Executives will report back in February next year with recommendations for action before we then consider the next steps, while our staff and our partners will be fully consulted at every stage, with public engagement when firm plans emerge.
"We want to stress though that local priorities will still be driven by local people, and the democratic mandate rested in elected councillors such as ourselves, will be retained.
"Our plans may be the first of their kind, but sharing of services in this way can no longer be viewed as a radical concept. It will soon become the norm for local authorities looking for innovative ways to keep costs down while delivering high quality front line services."
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles says:
"These councils are leading the way in local government and voters will expect others to get on board and follow suit. This is exactly the sort of innovation that will help councils to protect hardworking families and the most vulnerable. By sharing back office services, they'll be able to protect the frontline – and even improve the choice and services that's on offer to local residents.
"We're supporting these sorts of moves by giving unprecedented freedom and flexibility to councils to make their own choices, funding a council tax freeze, and calling time on the bureaucratic red tape and pointless form filling that has hampered councils for so long.
"Sharing services is just one of the options open to councils to ensure they are making the most of every pound they have – alongside moves to become more transparent, improve procurement and cut out waste. "
You can listen to Stephen's Today programme interview here. He says there will still be differences in the service specifications in the boroughs although it will be commissioned by the same staff. There will not be a homogeneous blob.There will still be choices at how much to spend and what level of Council Tax.