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Councils Agree to Share a Single Senior Management Team to Cut Costs

Published on: 8 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 12 Jul, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Financially beleaguered Guildford and Waverley borough councils have agreed to proceed with the proposal to share a senior management team in a bid to avoid making cuts to services.

The two cash-strapped councils will each keep a separate set of elected representatives but will share senior staff, meaning redundancies will be inevitable for some.

And Guildford’s leader has hinted it could ultimately lead to merging decision-making and taking over county responsibilities.

“This could well provide the basis for a unitary authority in the future,” he said.

WBC leader Paul Follows

Waverley’s leader, Paul Follows, has blamed the need for action on a “relentless assault” on local government finances by Boris Johnson’s government and his predecessors.

Over the next four years, Waverley Borough Council has a budget shortfall of £7.8 million while Guildford Borough Council needs to make around £6 million savings – 10 per cent of its spending.

GBC council leader Joss Bigmore described the collaboration as an “essential part of dealing with our budget problem”.

GBC leader Joss Bigmore

“I really don’t see this as a political decision, I kind of see this as a business problem that we have to face,” he said.

Their financial plan had been made obsolete, he said, by central government cuts and the cost of responding to the pandemic.

In addition, the council would try to cut costs internally, consider increasing fees and charges for services and reassess property needs post-pandemic.

“If we do this well, we may be able to protect and even improve our discretionary services,” said Cllr Bigmore, of Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV).

GBC offices at Millbrook where staff morale is said to be low and many desks are now unoccupied because of staff cuts and the pandemic.

He said redundancies would be handled with “the utmost professionalism and care” and added: “It is important to say that if we decide not to collaborate with Waverley, the required job losses may be even larger.”

But one councillor told The Dragon, that morale at GBC was suffering, “It’s a very unhappy place at the moment.” Some officers are said to be resigning before their jobs disappear.

The councils agreed on Tuesday (July 6) to start recruiting for a single joint chief executive, who will oversee the creation of a new shared team, including chief financial officer, legal officer and directors.

Once in place this team will look to further combine services and administration.

Currently, Waverley has 11 members in its senior management team, as of 2019/20 costing the council a total of between £934,000- £984,000 in salaries.

Existing chief officers James Whiteman (left) and Tom Horwood might now have to apply for the same single job. Tom Horwood image courtesy Farnham Herald

Chief executive Tom Horwood alone earned £129,389, and cost the council £152,734 including pension contributions.

Guildford had 74 employees earning over £50,000, of whom four are in its senior management team. Managing director James Whiteman was on a salary of £132,302 in 2019/20 and cost the council £169,070 in total.

A report commissioned by Surrey’s 11 boroughs and districts in response to the county council’s unitary bid presented a strong case for councils to work together more closely to save money.

Accounting firm KPMG identified that Guildford and Waverley boroughs’ similar sizes, geography and infrastructure links could make them natural partners.

Both councils’ executives have been exploring options with the Local Government Association since February.

Cllr John Rigg

John Rigg, R4GV Guildford councillor, said: “Sometimes you have issues and you have no options; you have no ability to get out of a situation where there are problems such as a major financial shortfall.

“We are very, very fortunate to have this option where we have a potential partner who is equally enthusiastic.”

WBC’s leader Paul Follows, of the Liberal Democrats, told councillors: “Ultimately why we are here is the systematic, continued and relentless assault on local government finances, perpetrated by central government, that it is often intent on pursuing in the face of all logic or sense.

“None of you were elected to simply preside over a death by slow cuts at the expense of services to our residents.”

He said that should be a last resort and they had a duty to explore other options first.

He added: “Ultimately, we hope to achieve a highly successful partnership, that other local authorities in Surrey will want to use as a model or even join.”

Conservative Waverley councillor Richard Seaborne warned risks should be quantified now and not after going into the arrangement “with eyes partly shut”. He was concerned they were “being kicked down the road, probably because they’re going to make painful reading”.

See also:

Dragon Interview: Council Leaders on Joint Working Between Guildford & Waverley

Guildford & Waverley Councils Set to Progress Cost-Cutting Partnership Initiative

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