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London boroughs to share education services

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By Jaimie Kaffash

7 July 2010

Two inner London boroughs are planning to share their children’s services in an arrangement described as the ‘first of its kind in the UK’.

Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham will merge all their education services, including school admissions and transport, by 2011. Two years later, this will be extended to all children’s services. Westminster’s Cabinet approved the plan yesterday and Hammersmith & Fulham is expected to ratify it on July 15.

Westminster hopes the arrangement will produce £3.1m of the £54m savings it needs to make. Nickie Aiken, Cabinet member for children and young people, told Public Finance: ‘It is very exciting. Westminster and Hammersmith are leading the way forward and I think we will see a lot more of merging and shared services – not just in London, but across the country.’

She said the ‘savings will come naturally’ from the merger. But she added that redundancies would be ‘inevitable’.

But this would not lead to a return to the Inner London Education Authority, which was disbanded in the mid-1980s, she said. ‘We went from the sublime to the ridiculous. We went from one local authority to 33 educational authorities. That is not sustainable now in the current financial situation. I personally believe we will see clusters throughout London where councils merge services, not necessarily just in education.’

The fact that both councils are Conservative-controlled helped, she said, and councillors were asked to plan in case there was a change in governing party in either authority.

‘Central government is very supportive of what we are doing. This is just the start,’ she added.

This came on the same day as Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles endorsed shared services at the Local Government Association’s annual conference.

‘In the case of education, is it really necessary to have separate education or separate social services departments?’ he asked. 

‘These sorts of mergers could actually make services work together, across boundaries, much more effectively.’