Councils to end 'tri-borough' partnership

29 Mar 17

Two councils in the landmark west London 'tri-borough' partnership are to serve notice on the arrangement.

In joint statement, published on 27 March, Westminster City Council and Kensington and Chelsea said they had arrived at the decision “reluctantly”.

They cited the uncertainty caused by the borough’s third partner – Hammersmith & Fulham – which is alleged to have made in-house arrangements without consulting the other two partners and was causing “anxiety” to shared service staff. Launched in 2011, the tri-borough put in place a variety of shared service arrangements to deliver savings.

The notice to terminate applies to shared staff working across children’s services, adult social care and public health. Westminster City Council leader Nickie Aiken said the tri-borough had been “quite rightly” lauded as an innovation in local government.

But she added: “Both the leader of Kensington and 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.”

Aiken said the door remained open should Hammersmith & Fulham wish to find an alternative way of working together.

Responding to the announcement, Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, said there had been concerns for some time about the tri-borough due “lack of transparency and its built-in conflicts of interest”.

He said: “In our last two budgets, Hammersmith & Fulham Council found £31m in savings but the ‘tri-borough’ contributed no more than £200,000 of that, less than 1%. 

“Problems with ‘tri-borough’ contracts, procured by Westminster City Council, have cost Hammersmith & Fulham over £5m, including the botched contract for special needs transport that put our disabled children at risk. 

“And senior ‘tri-borough’ officers have had to balance Hammersmith & Fulham’s determination to keep Charing Cross Hospital open with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea’s support for closing it.” He said he looked forward to “sensible discussions” about how to move forward.

Labour representatives at Westminster claimed that long-term mismanagement of back-office systems was at the root of the break up of the tri-borough, in particular a contract Westminster let to BT in January 2013, but which did not go live until April 2015.

David Boothroyd, Labour finance spokesman on Westminster City Council, said: “Westminster has been done in by its own hype.

"Starting off with sensible proposals to share back-office staff and integrate services with neighbouring councils, they let a grand vision take priority over the practical. It's no good telling everyone you've instituted a revolution in local government if you forget to pay your suppliers and children can't get to school on time.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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