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Frontline and top tier the next frontier

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We’re nearing completion of the first phase of the Local Government Groups’ productivity programme and, having led the shared services workstream, I’ve been surprised and encouraged by the range and number of examples that we’ve found.

When we started out last year, one of the aims was to better understand the breadth and depth of sharing across the country, and in the process we have found over 200 examples of shared service arrangements with more being announced on a regular basis.

The majority of examples include shared management teams and shared back office functions, although there are an increasing number of examples of shared front office functions such as customer contact centres, housing and transport.

Many of the examples are between districts, but a significant number also include unitary and county councils, and I have been impressed by the work across tiers and with bodies in the health, police and fire sectors.

Sharing is not restricted to adjoining authorities, for example shared chief executives in South Holland and Breckland DCs, or Teignbridge and Torridge DCs, and my own authority, Essex CC partners with Slough BC to develop their library service.

We hope that pulling these examples together in the easily accessible formats of a spreadsheet and a map means authorities considering shared services will be able to learn from others’ experience and move forward more quickly as a result.

What has encouraged me most is that in many cases, the driving factor is not just to save money, although this is clearly important, but to transform service delivery - and there has been much cross-over with the local productivity programme work on new models of service delivery such as commissioning, co-operatives, mutuals, social enterprises or outsourcing.

However, we can’t afford to stop here.

The current economic climate gives councils a much greater impetus to save money and improve productivity, but we’ve not seen enough big wins in frontline sharing in areas such as social care and waste or between the larger unitary and county levels.

There are some examples: sharing between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire CCs, overseen by a joint committee, has already realised £9m of savings; Greater Manchester is poised to integrate key services such as adult social care and children’s services; and, in the South West, the Peninsula Group has demonstrated that joint working can improve commissioning of children’s placements, and save money.

In the new era of sector self-regulation and improvement, it needs strong leadership from within the sector to push forward the sharing agenda in these more difficult areas, but it is necessary if we are really to transform the way services are delivered to our local communities.

Joanna Killian is shared chief executive of Essex CC and Brentwood BC.

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