West London boroughs deny 'super council' tag

22 Oct 10
The decision by three West London boroughs to merge services does not amount to a 'super council' as has been reported, the local authorities have said
By Jaimie Kaffash

22 October 2010

The decision by three West London boroughs to merge services does not amount to a ‘super council’ as has been reported, the local authorities have said.

Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea councils released a joint statement today saying they were looking at all their services with a view to merging back-office functions by February 2011.  

The statement said: ‘This week we have met and agreed to progress to plans to share every council service between our three councils. This may include merging services to reduce duplication and drive out needless cost.

‘While we won’t rule anything out at this stage, we expect to focus quite quickly on a few major areas where sharing and merging services is viable and good for the public. There are a number of areas, such as core democratic services, where we are unlikely to merge provision.’ 

A spokesman for Hammersmith & Fulham told Public Finance that each council retained the right to choose the level of services for its residents. He added: ‘The “super council” tag is a bit disingenuous – you won’t have this homogenous blob. If in Hammersmith & Fulham we say “actually, we want more adult services”, we would have that ability – our specifications can be different. All that happens is that the central commissioners are the same people, but they could be delivering different things in Hammersmith to Westminster. There will not be the same people on the ground delivering these services.

‘That is key to this whole thing and that applies to council tax too. We do not want to lose the localism element.’

Steve Freer, chief executive of CIPFA, commented: ‘This is a very bold move. Managed well, sharing services is a viable way to reduce unit costs and to roll out good practice. I expect that similar announcements may follow from other parts of the UK as local government and other public bodies prepare for life beyond the Spending Review.’

Mark Lawrie, head of local and regional consultants at consultants Deloitte, said if aggregation is to be accepted as a means of delivering higher quality and lower costs, there should be a set of nationally agreed criteria to determine how and where the model is rolled out.

‘It would not be in the best interest of council tax payers to rely on a series of marriages of convenience,’ he said.

Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham merged their children's services departments in July and the new department is ‘already making steady progress’, according to the councils.

A spokesman for Kensington & Chelsea told PF: ‘The council has been examining the various aspects of children’s services with the other two boroughs. We will be bringing forward proposals in due course.’

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