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Councils announce plans for radical shake up
FOUR councils in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire are set to form a new partnership in a bid to save £55million over the next decade.
Leaders of Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire District Councils and Cheltenham Borough Council are proposing a ‘2020 Vision for Joint Working’ initiative.
They say their vision will transform the way council services run in order to deliver more efficiency savings and protect public services.
If approved, the four councils would establish a jointly-owned local authority company to provide the services required by each individual council.
Their proposal is: “Four Independent Councils determining their own policies, priorities and decisions supported by a small number of expert advisors who commission and monitor services, either from the private and voluntary sectors or from local authority-owned service delivery companies” .
Each council's cabinet will discuss the proposals at meetings next month.
The leaders say the announcement comes in response to "continued financial pressures that local authorities face" and would enable the councils to protect valued frontline services, while each remaining as independent authorities with their own elected councillors representing local people.
Councillor Lynden Stowe, Leader of Cotswold District Council, said: “The proposition set out in this report represents perhaps the most radical joint working approach in local government today.
"It is a proper, considered response to a challenge not only of how to best use a smaller and reducing public subsidy but also how to make best use of technology, how to encourage and use a competitive market, and how to make smart use of managerial and other expertise.
“However, our proposals should also be seen as a natural and logical progression along an innovative transformational agenda which the councils have been delivering over recent years. We should take great encouragement from what has already been achieved.”
Councillor Barry Norton, Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “The councils already have a track record of developing innovative arrangements irrespective of traditional district, county or regional boundaries.
"This approach builds on that firm foundation and provides a very strong basis to support a new model for local government. It will provide efficient collective shared officer support arrangements, able to provide distinct and bespoke advice to a cluster of independent councils focused around existing district council localities without the need to consider political mergers.
"This model is scalable both in terms of numbers of partners but also in the scope of services.”
Councillor Patrick Molyneux, Leader of Forest of Dean District Council, said: “In simple terms amalgamating the support services of four councils would see a reduction in operating costs and an increase in efficiencies.
"By reducing the administration and running costs of the councils we can spend a bigger proportion of our budget on delivering the frontline services our communities need, while keeping the democratic decision making of local councillors intact.
"Local services, local democracy, lower costs … with the additional benefit of greater resilience.”
Councillor Steve Jordan Leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, added: “The development of our current shared services has enabled a strong degree of trust and confidence between the four partners at a member level.
"It seems both timely and logical to build on these strong foundations and plan for further joint working arrangements with existing partners.
"Importantly, these arrangements would ensure councils retain independent decision making that reflects local needs.”
For more on this story and reaction, see next week's Cotswold Journal.
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