2011 saw the launch of “tri-borough”: an arrangement to share services between Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster Councils.
It has saved a very substantial sum of money for council taxpayers in the three boroughs, while also providing service improvements.
I am sorry to report that Labour-run Hammersmith & Fulham have scuppered the arrangement. This is an astonishing act of fiscal self-harm given that the arrangement currently saves council taxpayers’ an estimated £13 million a year in Hammersmith & Fulham.
The formal severance notice means that by 1 April 2018, Hammersmith & Fulham will be going it alone when it comes to Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, and Public Health. Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster have already made it plain they intend to continue sharing these services on a bi-borough basis. Kensington & Chelsea will now seek reassurances in relation to what remains of the tri-borough arrangement and also in relation to services it shares with Hammersmith & Fulham alone, most notably waste and recycling.
Cllr Nick Paget-Brown, the Leader of Kensington & Chelsea Council says:
“We had no wish to withdraw from sharing arrangements with Hammersmith & Fulham. But these are vital services to vulnerable people. As knowledge of Hammersmith and Fulham’s plan grew, staff were becoming more and more anxious about their futures and that of the critically important services they work so hard to provide.
“These services need certainty and stability in order to be reliable and effective. We have taken this action in order to restore that certainty and stability.”
“With local government now in its eighth year of austerity, the partnership created between Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea in 2011 is perhaps the key reason why residents in our part of west London have been spared the deeper cuts witnessed elsewhere.
“By planning to end tri-borough Adult Social Care, Public Health and Children’s Services H&F will be imposing additional costs on its partners and on itself. While that cost cannot yet be fully determined it is likely to be in the millions.
“What is so puzzling about its actions is that our shared Children’s Services department is nationally recognized as outstanding and our shared Adult Social Care services have demonstrably stood up better to the national crisis in social care than those in in most other places.
“Of course partnership places some limits on operational freedom and that can be frustrating, but the savings we have made through sharing have helped preserve vital services to our most vulnerable residents. To our mind, this far outweighs the inconveniences and minor partisan frustrations of sharing services.
“We will now press Hammersmith & Fulham to work with us to preserve what remains of service sharing and to ensure that the unstitching of adults, children’s and public health does as little harm as possible to the people who rely on our services.”
Tri-borough’s legal agreements set out that with any termination of the arrangements, all parties are obliged to minimise disruption to delivery of services and to staff during the period of notice. To assist with this, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea have called for a joint project team with Hammersmith & Fulham to oversee the transition.
Cllr Nickie Aiken, the Leader of Westminster City Council said:
“We would not have chosen to end the Tri-borough arrangements which we believe have been a great success. When it was established in 2011 it was quite rightly lauded as an innovation in local authority service delivery. With extremely talented and hard-working staff, its track record speaks for itself with successes in children’s services, school attainment results and youth offending services to name but a few, combined with £43m of estimated savings. This means we have been able to better support front line services, which is what all our residents expect.
“However, both the Leader of Kensington & Chelsea and I feel we are unable to continue with tri-borough when we have a partner that we do not believe is committed to it as we are and appears to be making their own plans to leave, without any formal discussions. We can’t have that uncertainty for staff and these vital services which is why, with much regret, we have taken the very reluctant decision to terminate the joint arrangements for children’s services, adult social care and public health.
“We are confident that the future remains stable and positive for the continued sharing of services between Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea and our door remains firmly open should Hammersmith & Fulham wish to come and discuss a review of the current arrangements and find alternative ways of working together.
”As ever, our focus will always be on ensuring the best and most efficient services for local people and this will not be affected by the Cabinet’s decision regarding Tri-borough.”
I very much hope that a decisive victory for the Conservatives in Hammersmith & Fulham next year will offer the chance for a fresh start. That will not be easy. These are long term arrangements that rely on trust and commitment. In any event it is terrible shame that this innovative and highly effective way of saving money and safeguarding front line services has been disrupted for partisan reasons.