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‘Eight to join joint venture'

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One of England’s largest shared services ventures has signalled its intention to run back office functions for another eight councils.

Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire County Councils’ joint venture, which was this month joined by Slough Borough Council, has revealed a raft of councils have expressed an interest in becoming customers, reducing the cost of services including payroll, online payment and personnel.

The three councils are set to tender for a private sector partner in the new year and hope to be able to sell a raft of local government back-office services from April 2011.

Cambridgeshire head of people and policy, Stephen Moir, said: “After a year of operation we should be in a position to get local authorities on board as customers.

“We have two county councils and a unitary, so we can offer a complete set of back-office functions.

“There would be capacity issues if we tried to take on too many customers but we are confident that with the hardware we have, we can take on up to eight local authorities.”

Mr Moir said he had written to a raft of councils of differing sizes and that many had expressed an interest in the services offered.

The addition of Slough is seen as notable because most shared service agreements have been struck between councils in the same geographical area. But the project’s backers say technology allows the venture to provide services to councils regardless of their geographical proximity.

Northamptonshire’s corporate director of customer and community Services, Paul Blantern, said: “Having Slough join the programme means our vision of delivering local government shared services can expand further and demonstrates that we are not constrained to sharing with only neighbouring authorities.”

The recession and another tight financial settlement has led councils to investigate increasingly radical methods to gain efficiency savings.

Elsewhere, the Southwest One project, set up by Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon & Somerset Police and IBM, continues to court controversy. Both Unison and Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) have claimed that there has been a lack of consultation of staff by the councils involved.

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