Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils to explore options for closer working

Executive Committees at both Guildford and Waverley have endorsed working more closely together and have agreed to explore potential options for the councils to share resources, which could potentially lead to combining services and administrative functions.

Throughout the 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 Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic have impacted on already stretched council budgets.

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

It is hoped that a range of opportunities can be identified that will lead to both savings and better, more sustainable local services for residents under two separate democratic councils. These could include cost savings achieved by sharing a single team for functions such as management teams, economies of scale in the delivery of some services and increased purchasing power when negotiating with suppliers and contractors.

Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Joss Bigmore says:

"We are keen to explore 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. I believe that the stark reality of our budget challenges means 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. At Guildford we need to find £6millon over the next four years to maintain our service provision, and recent changes by the government restrict our abilities to act in the commercial world to offset substantial reduction in government funding.

"We keep 9% of Council Tax and around 5% of the business rates we collect and despite being on target to achieve £8million 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 I believe we now have to look across our borders and 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.

He added: "Any options identified will of course be discussed by councillors at each stage before we move forward and will only be progressed if we can be certain there are significant tangible benefits to both councils and our respective communities."

Leader of Waverley Borough Council, Cllr John Ward says:

"Local government reorganisation has been a high-profile issue since Surrey County Council announced a bid to create a county-wide unitary council, a bid which fortunately the government was not willing to consider at that time. We did not, and still do not, believe their proposal was in the best interests of local people, but the government has left the door open for such a bid sometime in the future. The spectre of a mega-unitary bid still hangs over us and so it is clear that doing nothing is not an option.

"Even before the effects of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Waverley Borough Council was facing a large financial challenge due to falling government funding and increasing costs. We have embarked on an ambitious programme of measures to deliver cost savings and to maximise the use of our assets to increase income. However, we still have a residual budget shortfall over the next four years of £7.8million, so further compensating measures must be identified and we are exploring a range of options including collaboration.

"The KPMG report stressed that joint working was clearly the way forward and so we are looking at ways cooperation with our neighbour Guildford will enable us to make financial savings and improve our services. Should the government revive its interest in Surrey-wide unitary councils we feel Guildford and Waverley would make a logical core of any such establishment. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen first-hand how residents can benefit from partnership working between local authorities through the work to support our communities. We will be exploring any and all options to continue to deliver and improve the vital services that our residents rely on - now more so than ever."

Both Executive Committees agreed to engage the Local Government Association to carry out a scoping report on detailed options and potential savings for partnership working.

Published Wednesday 17 February