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OPINION -£1BN GERSHON GIFT IS JUST THE START

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Top tier councils show they are focused on savings...
Top tier councils show they are focused on savings

The savings of over£1bn by the top tier authorities revealed in our exclusive analysis of the Gershon efficiency review show local government's effectiveness compared with central government.

While Whitehall departments have all too frequently come across as rank amateurs when it comes to matching both the letter and the spirit of Gershon, councils have shown themselves to be well advanced in driving efficiency plans.

Adult social care, the corporate centre and procurement are the main

areas of savings. A good example of how councils are trying to be more

effective rather than simply cut costs is the push in many areas to help more elderly continue to live independently rather than moving them into a costly care home - in line with the aspirations of the adult services green paper.

Many councils told LGC that the Gershon process was, to a large degree, recording savings and efficiencies they were planning to make anyway.

Certainly it is difficult to imagine any council does not annually review its operations to see if it can use money more effectively, and many are well advanced in their practices, but there is still more that can be done.

For example, although procurement practices have come a long way in the last five years, the amount of large scale e-procurement and regional collaboration is still small. Similarly, there are still shire areas where the county and districts still have a long way to go in collaboration and pooling resources.

Beyond that there are still untapped opportunities for national collaboration between councils with similar characteristics to share ideas, practice and back office systems. Once again, there has been progress but there is still a long way to go.

Several councils have flagged up strategic partnering as a way to deliver significant savings. While partnering is never risk free, some councils still have an irrational aversion to allowing private firms to run their nuts and bolts operations.

So while Gershon can feel like yet another central government form-filling exercise, it has at least had the benefit of focussing minds on how to work more effectively, and often helped stimulate creativity.

And if local government ever runs out of opportunities to make savings in its own operations, perhaps the

Treasury could let council managers loose in Whitehall for a few days to show civil servants how efficient management really works.

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