15 August 2008
Seven Scottish councils could share revenue and benefit services under groundbreaking proposals.
The councils, members of the North of Scotland Local Authorities group, are awaiting the results of a feasibility project, due in October.
The study was commissioned by Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Western Isles, Highland, Moray and Orkney councils, which hope to set up a shared services arrangement for local tax administration, billing and collection and for the administration of tax and housing benefits. Non-domestic rates are also included in the project which, if successful, could be the forerunner of a single, all-Scotland revenue and benefits body.
The proposals apply to the collection of council tax, but the authorities have agreed to 'modify the emphasis' of the project so that it does not conflict with the Scottish National Party government's plans to introduce a local income tax.
Despite this uncertainty, a government document giving details of the project – which is funded by a £320,000 shared services grant – says: 'There is a very strong commitment to a shared financial services arrangement from the seven local authorities.'
Project manager Sheila McKandie told Public Finance that the aim was to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of revenue and benefit services. Until now, the project had concentrated on areas such as performance, staffing and information technology costs.
McKandie, policy and development manager for Highland Council, added: 'We are now moving into the exciting stage by looking at different options. These include what we can share, and to what level, and the operating model that can support that level of sharing.'
Albert Tait, director of finance for Orkney Council, said job retention was a key issue in the Scottish islands and assurances had been given to staff before the project went ahead.
He said: 'We are not creating one large call centre or one large department. Our aim is to drive efficiency and effectiveness… within a decentralised environment.'