They'll kill us if they can, Bruce. Every year they grow smaller. Every year they hate us more. We must not remind them that giants walk the earth.
- Superman, The Dark Knight Returns
Should Lewisham Council merge with one or more of its peers?
Yesterday, Tory Minister Grant Shapps told Radio 4 that Councils shouldn't cut any front line services, unless and until they had achieved every possible efficiency saving, including merging core functions and sharing CEOs. Today, the Guardian reports that:
The London boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea have proposed to merge all their services, from schools and refuse collection to child protection, under the direction of a single chief executive.
Merging or outsourcing back-office functions like finance, communications and human resources certainly could make sense, but is a Super Council compatible with the localism that the Coalition says it believes in? We've written before that in many ways Councils are exactly the wrong size for the job they are set up to do - but does a Super Council model improve matters? How much decision-making could be devolved to ward-level and would that lead to an increase in costs?
More importantly, what teams from other Councils would you like? If we could have the people in charge of Southwark's streetscape and Tower Hamlets' shop renovations, we'd be happy. But please spare us from Greenwich Council's communications team or the guys in charge of Greenwich Market's redevelopment. Meanwhile, Lewisham could export its waste management expertise and its press office.
We don't approve of the scale of cuts being imposed upon local Councils (which amounts to central Government passing the buck for a lot of the pain to come), but if cuts must be made, then surely the priority should be to protect services, rather than jobs (although we recognise that the two things often go hand-in-hand).