My council leader in Hammersmith and Fulham, Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, has been telling the Municipal Journal Conference on Local Accountability and Governance about the £3.2 million savings next year that we are on course to make as a result of combining services with Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The three councils should have saved £33.4 million by 2014/15 with joint management teams running adult, children’s and library services. There is flexibility with some Bi-Borough savings as well as Tri-Borough savings. H&F and RBKC also share a chief executive and some environmental services. Of course there will also be plenty of areas where the councils are making economies through independent initiatives. Stephen talked about the ‘Three Rs’ of dealing with the economic pressures facing local government – Release, Reduce and Reform. H&F has to save £65 million over the next four years.
Libraries offer a good example of what can be achieved.
“While other authorities are closing their libraries we are keeping them open and effectively trebling the offer by allowing our residents to borrow books in any of the Tri-Borough areas."
One problem we have that the other two councils don't is a huge debt burden – with the consequences of significant chink of our budget going on debt interest. So we are selling property to reduce debt. We are releasing nearly a third of our accommodation by the end of next financial year. Our footprint will be down from 56,047 sq yards to a projected 42,209 sq yards. For instance Fulham Town Hall which is in a poor state of repair and with limited public access.
Another theme in Stephen's speech was decentralising power from the Town Hall to neighbourhoods. We have estates in White City where nearly £70 million is spent every year even though the unemployment is twice the borough average, the area has high levels of overcrowding, relatively low educational attainment and relatively high levels of crime.
We propose a Neighbourhood Community Budget to pool public spending, involve residents in ensuring this money is spent effectively – which it clearly is not at present.
"We will move away from a pointless obsession with process to commissioning for tangible outcomes," Stephen says.