The Conservative leaders of Wandsworth and Richmond have announced plans for a “shared staffing structure”.
The idea is that the new arrangement should be in place by March 2017 and that it would deliver annual savings for each authority of up to £10 million. That is ambitious but the experience of the tri-borough arrangement between Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster suggests it is achieveable. The savings shared between the three of us are due to be around £40 million in the coming financial year.
Initially the focus in Richmond and Wandsworth will be on merging management structures – reducing duplication, and the proportion of spending that goes on senior management. In the longer term there would be opportunities for further savings to reduce overheads, for example, getting better deals from suppliers when commissioning services.
The statement adds:
“Under the innovative proposals, the intention is that the two councils would be managed by a single chief executive, Paul Martin, currently chief executive at Wandsworth, and a deputy chief executive and director of resources – Mark Maidment, currently Richmond’s director of finance and corporate services. This proposed new structure would be fully implemented following the retirement of Gillian Norton, Richmond’s chief executive, and Chris Buss, Wandsworth’s deputy chief executive and director of finance.
“Wandsworth and Richmond councils would continue to be separate sovereign bodies with their own elected councillors, cabinets and leaders, maintaining their distinct identities and retaining the ability to develop policies and priorities that matter to their local residents.”
Cllr Ravi Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council said:
“Wandsworth has taken enormous strides since 2010 to reduce its costs and protect frontline services. We’ve reduced our senior management by a third, market tested services, and supported the launch of a major staff-led mutual for culture and leisure services. This has delivered savings of £90million, but there is more to do.
“The time is now right to make further savings ‘behind the scenes’ whilst helping to ensure Wandsworth’s residents enjoy the same levels of key services as they do now.
“I very much welcome the chance to work closely with Richmond. We have in common some of the highest resident satisfaction levels in the country, top quality services and, of course, Conservative administrations.
“By working together we can tap into more opportunities for savings and innovation that will mean better outcomes for residents.”
Lord True, leader of Richmond Council, said:
“With the country continuing to borrow at a disturbingly high rate, every part of the public sector will be called upon to make further savings, whoever is in Government after May. Richmond cannot be immune. We have already made savings of £30million over the past four years; we know we need to make the same again in the period to 2018. We have said – and residents strongly support this – that we wanted to do as much of this as possible by sharing management costs with others.”
“The public expect us to protect key services if we can. That is why it is our duty to accept sometimes painful reductions in back office costs. We had hoped for a total deal with Kingston, but after six months of talks no conclusion had been reached. We could not agree on a single, joint management approach which could work effectively for both authorities. We thus suspended the talks, leaving each authority free to seek alternatives.
“We have now been able to agree with Wandsworth the proposed approach which has always been our preference – a shared officer structure from chief executive down. I am confident we can make the contribution to total savings we need by joining our services in this way. But crucially – do this whilst retaining our sovereignty and service standards as a borough.
“As part of this, our chief executive, Gillian Norton, will be retiring in 2016 after over 16 years. There will be many future occasions to show appreciation for Gillian’s outstanding leadership of the service – in my view she is one of the most gifted people I have worked with in nearly 40 years of public service. But for the next 18 months Gillian, working with Wandsworth’s chief executive, Paul Martin, will be leading in the process of fitting Richmond and Wandsworth to work successfully as partners together, while protecting the unique ethos of our borough.”
The remarkable thing is not that Wandsworth and Richmond are doing this. It is that so many other councils are failing to achieve anything of the same scale.