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LEADER - SHARED SERVICES FACE THE SQUEEZE

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Cost savings may not be enough to stop service cuts...
Cost savings may not be enough to stop service cuts

The Improvement & Development Agency's report on workforce planning illuminates how councils are facing up to the financial, political, recruitment and service pressures which will define the local government landscape for the next three years.

Progress on efficiencies is, to say the least, uneven. It is the two-tier areas that, broadly, are putting the most energy into finding workforce savings through collaborative working, driven by ministerial pressure to work more effectively together. But the IDeA appears sceptical that, in the areas pursuing unitary bids, the promised savings can be delivered.

In total they are promising£200m of unitary savings, mainly through overhauling back office and support services, but with few plans for partnering or outsourcing. History offers little hope this will work.

Across local government, support services such as human resources, finance and facilities management look likely to take the full force of the spending squeeze to be unleashed by the comprehensive spending review. Many fewer staff will be directly employed, with those remaining focused on strategic roles.

Any company trying to make money out of shared services will tell you there is more talk than action, the road strewn with local political obstacles. The IDeA report backs this up; while most counties and districts, for example, are discussing shared services, a district getting together with one or two neighbours is a far more likely outcome than a county-wide operation.

District fears for their longevity are evident in their preference for sharing services with little public visibility.

As for councils collaborating with primary care trusts and other partners, little of substance seems to be happening.

The report spells out what many have feared - most local government shared service arrangements are simply too small to generate the scale of savings the government requires in its spending projections. This greatly heightens the risk that avoidable service cuts will result from the financial squeeze.

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