Council and Super Council

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.

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).


Anonymous said...

No way Southwark would merge with Lewisham.

Only Greenwich would, as they are so similar in political and demographic terms.

Sadly I dont imagine much benefit from it either.

Reg said...

There are too many councils in London... and yes some should merge.

Anonymous said...

Maybe blogs could also merge?

max said...

Who's next to be made redundant. the Executive Mayor or the Chief Executive?
The Chief Executive costs about £200k per year but on paper doubles the function of the Executive Mayor, that's £800k over 4 years, which sounds remarkably like the savings needed to save those 5 libraries.

Anonymous said...

Greenwich wouldn't even cough up for a few fireworks.

Tressilliana said...

It must have been very expensive to set up one LEA per borough back in 92 when the ILEA was disbanded. Does anyone know if costs increased? The ILEA ran all the schools in Inner London, so a merger of three boroughs is quite small beer in comparison.

max said...

So, in 1992 the thinking behind it cannot have been about savings.

The bigger the area covered the smaller we are and less influence we can have, so in general I am for smaller is better, which also helps competition and new ideas.
The loss of the Town Centre Managers for example is mourned by many, it was a direct way to have the Council's ear.

The supreme irony in this is that it's about Council managers pricing themselves out of their jobs.
If they cost so much that considering merging functions across Councils and getting rid of a handful of them is a significant saving compared to the size of the budget they manage then they can only blame themselves.

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon 19.57 - yes, we're always looking to drive cost efficiencies and pass those savings on to our readers through lower prices.

Sort of thing Hugh would say said...

Can we have one idiot poster? An uber-twat? I'm afraid my brilliance rules me out.

TodayDeptford said...

Wouldn't it be great to cherry pick the best bits...

Unfortunately Greenwich and Lewisham have not seen eye to eye for so long it's not likely that the twain shall meet with present incumbents in tow.

Deptford would rather be part of Greenwich or Southwark since Lewisham treats it like a leper zone or else a dormer development. (Lewisham can keep New Cross BTW now that Goldsmiths has our Town Hall)

Max is right about keeping it local, Deptford should have it's own mayor and budget.

On the other hand one can see how Lewisham will end up contracting out services such as refuse collection, the same way they are contracting out schools, till they've contracted out everything like the Tory twats they are and we might as well have services run centrally (albeit contracted out to multi-nationals), and the Mayor ends up like he used to be - without power...and likewise the Chief Exec.(Max underestimates the savings on these two)...

If we're to pay for Blackheath Fireworks, can we vote for who we want to see burned on the fire?

It probably wouldn't be any of the above since I'm sure we'd all agree there's some large-scale tax dodgers we'd like to symbolically send off in an explosion (since we seem powerless to stop them otherwise). Maybe BC would like to run a poll?

Anonymous said...

The council already has a joint agreement with Croydon Council regarding street lighting.

Kensington, Westminster and Hammersmith are only following the advice of.....Sir Steve Bullock.

Steve Bullock and Richard Leese headed up the 'Putting the Frontline First Task Force' and produced a report in March.

When launching the report minister John Denham said....

"Councils have some tough choices in the next few years as things become tighter.....

Today my taskforce, ably led by Steve Bullock and Richard Leese, has set out ten decisive steps councils can take to protect local services.

They include sharing back office roles like HR and IT; using the same chief executive at two councils; and reducing the number of buildings used by bringing services together under the same roof."

I would have thought Lewisham would have led the way?

On the one hand there's all the talk about 'localism' but on the other talk of combining services.

We will probably end up with another tier of government in London, ie regional.

Anonymous said...

Bullock's & Dick's advice...

The ten things councils must do to protect frontline services:

1. Council services must be focused on the customer. They come first

2. Take a Total Place approach to frontline services

3. Make services more efficient – cutting out waste and unnecessary duplication. Especially in two tier areas

4. Check performance against others and learn from who is doing it better

5. Buy goods and services in groups and use that buying power to create local benefits and involve the third sector

6. Reduce the number of council buildings by locating more services together

7. Motivate staff to help to perform to the best of their ability

8. Make managers leaders of innovation to improve services
Streamline management.

9. Consider splitting senior posts with other councils or PCTs

10. Share professional expertise and ensure council staff are able
to be flexibly deployed

Anonymous said...

I noticed Dustmen picking up bins Today (Sat) that were not emptied on there allocated day,I believe some bins are not emptied on purpose so they can get overtime at the Weekend.Good luck to them,only way to make up the wages.

darryl said...

If we're to pay for Blackheath Fireworks, can we vote for who we want to see burned on the fire?

I've got some ideas...

As TodayDeptford says, Greenwich and Lewisham haven't seen eye to eye for years, and their political cultures are vastly different (you have things called "Liberal Democrats" and we don't, for example).

Which is a shame because the two boroughs do have a lot in common. My own preference would be for a big pan-SE London borough with a lot more decisions devolved down to community level (ward, or maybe postcode level). Can't see that happening under the current climate, though.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see some traditional urban myths being perpetuated about bin men.

Anonymous said...

Some sharing seems sensible, but if you merge almost everything them why not go all the way and merge so that the democratic element is aligned with the economies of scale?

Monkeyboy said...

Well as Nick pointed out, it does rather go against the Tory idea of less big government and devolving powers locally. I thought we were continually told that big public sector organisations were inefficient etc, etc....

I don't have a position either way at the moment but I'm suspicious.

Anonymous said...

It is daft 80% of a local council's funding comes from central government.

That of the remaining 20% raised via Council Tax was being used mainly to service debts.

For example in one year £68m was raised via Council Tax but £65m was spent reducing debt and paying interest.

Which means complicated formulas and re-directing of funds are used to provide local services.

If people want more local power/input etc then boroughs need to be less reliant on government funding?

max said...

They are already less reliant on Central Government funding where the population is wealthier and the social expenditure smaller.

Lewisham has a 30/70 ratio of Council Tax against Government funding, in Richmond it's the opposite.

Monkeyboy said...

So poor areas stay poor and rich areas stay rich? If you're born poor you tend to stay poor, if you think that's a desirable social model then I guess you're right. A bit of gentle redistribution of wealth is fine by me, we all gain from a more equatible society, or am I being hopelessly naive?

Anonymous said...

Isn't the point here about balancing efficiency and accountability?

There are a lot of things a council does which don't need to be done at the local level. I want my bins emptied every week. I don't care if this is done by Lewisham Council or Defra, as long as there's no difference on cost. But if it would be cheaper for one rather than t'other, I would have a view. Economies of scale suggest which is more likely to be.

When was the last time there was a serious review of what a London borough should and shouldn't do? I've a strong suspicion it took place at a time when productivity gains from IT were not properly factored in.

The Cat Man said...

I'm all for getting rid of that bollocky labour mayor, everytime I see him I cringe. He doesn't represent me in the slightest.

The Cat Man said...

Monkeyboy people are poor because they choose to be, how many benefits does it take to get someone off their fat lazy ass and get a job? We've had ten years of labour hand outs - let's face facts, it hasn't worked, some people are still poor. Perhaps it's time for self help not state help

Monkeyboy said...

For all those new here who wonder why cat man is so universally derided I give you the above.

George Osbourne said...

cat Man old chap, one of my aides has just draw my attention to your post. Would you mind if I use it as the executive summary for the CBR? Some of my back benchers are struggling with the ethos behind it.

poor show said...

"... people are poor because they choose to be"

When some poor people try to get themselves out of poverty by going to another country. They are derided as economic migrants.

And then when this govt gives aid to countries where there are lots of poor people, to help build their infrastructure, we get "charity begins at home".

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