Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils' partnership working moves forward
In February this year, Executive Committees at Guildford and Waverley endorsed working more closely together, and with the support of the Local Government Association have been exploring potential options for combining services and administrative functions. This week both councils discussed these options further and agreed to make a decision on the next step for partnership working at their respective Full Council meetings on 6 July.
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.
The options could potentially lead to savings and better, more sustainable local services for residents under two separate democratic councils. Savings could include those achieved by sharing a single senior management team, 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 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 the 6 July. At Guildford we need to find £6millon 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% 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 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.
He added: "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."
Leader of Waverley Borough Council, Cllr Paul Follows said:
"Local authorities have been forced to manage significant cuts to their funding from 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. Even before the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Waverley Borough Council had 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 of £7.8million over the next four years, so we continue to explore a range of options including collaboration.
The KPMG report stressed that joint working is the way forward, and it is clear that doing nothing is simply not an option. 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.
Councillor Follows added: "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."