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

Published on: 28 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 28 Jun, 2021

Partnership working between Guildford and Waverley borough councils is expected to take another step forward this week.

Following approval at their respective Executive committees and with the support of the Local Government Association have been exploring potential options for combining services and administrative functions.

This week both councils will confirm the next step for partnership working at their respective full council meetings on July 6.

It is envisaged that the two councils might form a single senior management team under one shared managing director, saving salary costs. Other benefits sought will be economies of scale in the delivery of some services and increased purchasing power when negotiating with suppliers and contractors.

Existing chief officers Jame Whiteman and Tom Horwood might end up competing for the same single job as head of a shared management team. Tom Horwood image courtesy Farnham Herald

A major cost-saving initiative “Future Guildford”, initiated under the previous administration, is already reducing the headcount at GBC and one serving councillor told The Dragon that morale was suffering, adding: “Some are voting with their feet.”

A GBC council spokesperson said: “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, both councils have worked hard to maintain essential services, help vulnerable communities and support their local economies. However, the additional costs of responding to the outbreak have impacted on already stretched council budgets.”

A KPMG report into local government reorganisation and collaboration, published earlier this year, highlighted a clear need for neighbouring authorities across Surrey to consider the expansion of existing partnerships to reduce the duplication of services, increase efficiency and provide better value for money.

In February, the Local Government Association was engaged to carry out a scoping report on potential savings for partnership working between Guildford and Waverley. The report provided the background for this week’s discussions.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

GBC leader, Cllr Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said: “We are exploring closer working with Waverley Borough Council as a way to future-proof and protect our services to our residents and businesses and keep them local.

“Our joint budget challenges mean we must explore ambitious plans. A merged set of officers supporting two separate groups of councillors is a model that has been implemented in councils across the country delivering increased resilience in service and cost savings to budgets and is one of the options councillors will now decide on July 6.

“At Guildford, we need to find £6 million over the next four years and recent changes by the government restrict our abilities to act in the commercial world to offset a substantial reduction in government funding.

“We keep 9 per cent of Council Tax and around 5 per cent of the business rates we collect. Despite being on target to achieve £8 million of cost savings from our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, we need to make more savings.

“I think this organisation has performed amazingly well to maintain the services we provide when considered against this brutal funding environment and with the additional response to the pandemic, but it is not enough and we must continue to explore all options.

“There are natural synergies between Guildford and Waverley, in our communities and geography and we are excited to progress looking at greater partnership working.

“It is time for councillors to make some challenging decisions. I am now confident we can be certain there are significant tangible benefits for both councils and our respective communities to progress further partnership working and to do this at a pace.”

Cllr Paul Follows

Leader of Waverley Borough Council, Cllr Paul Follows said: “Local authorities have been forced to manage significant cuts to their funding from the government for over a decade now, and most are reaching the limits of what can be achieved on their own, without having to make some really tough decisions about cutting local services to make ends meet.

“[In Waverley] we still have a residual budget shortfall of £7.8 million over the next four years, so we continue to explore a range of options including collaboration.

“Cooperation with our neighbour Guildford, could enable us to make financial savings while protecting and even helping us to improve our services, even as other areas are having to contemplate cuts to theirs.

“Local government reorganisation has been high on the government’s agenda for many years now, and it appears a reasonable possibility that at some point, there will be a move to a Unitary council structure in Surrey.

“Guildford and Waverley would make a logical core for any such organisation covering our area, and closer cooperation could help demonstrate the effectiveness of that arrangement. 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.”

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