Four district councils have unveiled proposals to share services, in a move that could see the councils ceasing to employ any of their own staff.
Cheltenham BC, Cotswold DC, Forest of Dean DC, and West Oxfordshire DC are planning to set up a jointly owned company to provide services for all four councils.
A report outlining the proposal said there would be “four independent councils determining their own policies, priorities and decisions”, supported by “a small number of expert advisors who commission and monitor services [which would be provided] either from the private and voluntary sectors or from local authority owned service delivery companies”.
It described the plans as “perhaps the most radical joint working approach in local government today”.
If approved, it said, the proposals “could effectively lead to councils that do not directly employ any of their own staff”.
Under the proposals, a small number of expert officers would advise individual councils on policy development, financial strategy and budgets. These experts could either be “bespoke to a council” or shared with other authorities.
The councils aim to save a combined £5.5m per year under the plans.
All four authorities already share a number of back-office functions, including finance, human resources and payroll departments. Under the new proposals, each authority could choose which of its services to run through the shared company and which to keep in-house.
There is also scope for other local authorities outside of the four to buy into parts of, or all of, the cost-cutting project.
Councils have emphasised, however, that they would retain their political independence, with their own elected councillors.
Pension arrangements for new staff are likely to change but those for existing employees will remain. Meanwhile, pay and rewards could be based on the organisation’s success or failure in relation to targets.
Barry Norton (Con), leader of West Oxfordshire DC, told LGC: “Government funds for local councils are diminishing rather than increasing, and this is one way of bridging that gap. This is the route we want to go down and develop.”
However Paul Hodgkinson, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group on Cotswold DC, said: “I’m not saying it won’t work or that it can’t work. I’m just concerned that in the endless quest for cutting costs, the bottom line of being an effective council and responding to local residents gets forgotten about.
“Once you start outsourcing more and more things the scrutiny of those services becomes more difficult.”
The four district councils were awarded a £500,000 grant from government in April as part of the Transformation Challenge Award. The money will be used to draw up more detailed proposals.
The proposals will be considered at each of the four councils’ cabinet meetings over the next four weeks.