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Opposition Parties Want More Details Before Fully Approving the Ongoing GBC-WBC Collaboration

Published on: 2 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 2 Feb, 2022

By Martin Giles

The new Joint Chief Executive for Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils has described the next stages of the collaborative partnership that is aimed at reducing costs and sustaining local public services.

Tom Horwood joint CEO GBC/WBC Image courtesy Farnham Herald

Tom Horwood started his role on December 1 2021, having been chief executive at Waverley for four years, and previously a shared director of two councils in Hampshire. In a committee meeting at Millmead and in a message to all councillors and staff, he said the collaboration now focuses on implementing the two parts of the resolutions agreed by both councils last year.

But support from opposition parties at the borough council was lukewarm and conditional, reserving their positions until more details and evidence of success emerge.

The new joint CEO said: “The councils agreed that a contract would be needed between them, called an inter-authority agreement. A cross-party group of six councillors – three from each council – has been meeting weekly to go through the principles of partnership working that will then be reflected in the agreement.

“These include financial cost and benefit-sharing, HR principles, dispute resolution and how assets will be used. The content of this agreement will be presented to both councils, hopefully in April, before being turned into the formal legal document so that the governance is clear and right for both partners at an early stage.

“Second, the councils agreed to create a joint management team, which will then bring forward business cases for further collaboration. I have invited an independent and experienced consultant to support me with this over the next few weeks, using some of the money (£16,300) saved from combining two chief executive posts into one.

“This will involve looking at two very different senior management structures and suggesting options for the future that will work for service delivery and meet the need to save money. Senior councillors and colleagues will be involved in this process as the ideas develop.

“My priority is for the councils to continue to deliver our important services during this time of change, to support staff and to communicate with councillors as any changes are proposed. I’ve enjoyed the last few weeks getting to meet colleagues, councillors and other partners, and discussing their priorities and ambitions.”

Sallie Barker

Sallie Barker, chair of the Guildford Conservative Association said: “The Conservative Group at GBC did not support the decision to merge management and services because, at the time, there was no agreement in place, even in draft form. We welcome the work now being done to negotiate an inter-authority agreement, but this should have been the starting point, rather than an afterthought.

“We look forward to seeing the details of the cost savings from the redundancy of the dedicated Managing Director at GBC. We have concerns that the presented cost savings for Guildford may have been undermined by the reality of redundancy and pension payments.

“Only when we have details of the inter-authority agreement and current and future cost-savings, will we be in a position to judge whether the merger was right for Guildford residents.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Ramsey Nagaty, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group said:When the issue of closer co-operation with Waverley was first raised, GGG were in favour. Subsequently, the agenda moved to even closer working and a joint management team.

“Our party felt more detailed analysis of the risks potential savings and pitfalls should be explored before a final decision.

“GBC voted to proceed on the basis that there would be two or three further stages where should more information come available the decision could be paused or reversed. I recall Cllr George Potter stating this at the full council meeting held during a Covid lockdown at the University.

“However, the momentum rapidly gained and GBC MD James Whiteman left with a good leaving package.

“We now have a joint chief executive in Tom Horwood and it is to be hoped that we can achieve the savings envisaged whilst maintaining an acceptable level of service to our residents.

“We would prefer an all-party working group to develop the relationship with Waverley. GGG are ready to assist going forward.”

Sue Hackman

Guildford Labour’s secretary Sue Hackman commented: “I think collaboration is always good if the partners learn from each other, get along and the benefits make it worthwhile. Half of the Guildford parliamentary constituency is in Waverley and this development might also help pave the way for the current county council to become three unitary authorities.

“However, [what has been said] makes it clear that it is essentially about cuts, cost-saving and economies. This is, at heart, about a government which continually undermines local authorities, starving them of cash and leaving councils to cope with the disappointments this creates.

“Whilst the work so far has concentrated on how the council will run their collaboration and bought in (another) consultant to tell them how to structure themselves, we ought to reserve our judgement until we see how they use their joint cuts, where the priorities lie and who will be the winners and losers.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

The GBC leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch)  was clear that cost-cutting was the main aim of the initiative: “We continue to operate in extremely challenging times with both councils facing ongoing and increasing budget deficits.

“The collaboration is part of our savings strategy and will mean we will realise tangible benefits from cost saving to resilience. Despite being on track to achieve our target of £8million savings through our “Future Guildford” transformation programme, we need to save a further £6 million – 10 per cent of our spending – over the next four years.”

But he remained confident each council would retain separate democratic identities, despite closer partnership working, through a Joint Chief Executive and shared management team, and that the initiative was the best option for future-proofing services for residents. He said: “It has been great working with Tom over the past two months drawing on his skills and experience in local government. I am pleased we’re close to the point of an inter-authority agreement being formally presented to councillors. Thank you to everyone who is working on this.”

Cllr Paul Follows

Leader of Waverley Borough Council, Paul Follows, also wanted to thank all involved adding: “The next phase is crucial in determining the overall success of our future relationship and we need to ensure that we have clear understanding and agreement between both partners on exactly how we will work together – and that we have the right structure in place to take both councils forward under a single officer team.

“Guildford and Waverley have a great deal in common and in many respects are natural partners, but the underlying reason for our collaboration is the uncertain financial outlook caused by continued cuts to local authority funding from government”

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