Government inspector Max Caller has strongly criticised Northamptonshire CC’s relationship with Local Government Shared Services (LGSS), one of the sector’s largest back office service providers.
In his inspection report on the stricken council for housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid Mr Caller questioned whether Northamptonshire had sensible working arrangements with LGSS.
These had left Northamptonshire’s executive director of resources with no support staff - as all involved worked for LGSS - and meant the county had no lead senior officer for human resources, only capacity commissioned from the provider.
Mr Caller found: “There are a number of areas where the relationship with LGSS at best confuses accountability and at worst prevents it.
“There appears to be little strategic capacity for strategic thinking on support service within the council with the expectation that is it discharged by staff in LGSS. That could work if the council had strong commissioning, but that is not apparent.”
LGSS was set up in 2010 by Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire CCs, later joined by Milton Keynes Council. It provides back office services to some other authorities including Central Bedfordshire Council and Norwich City Council.
Mr Caller said LGSS was run by a non-statutory joint committee with staff remaining employees of their parent councils.
“It appears that, as a consequence, staff are not deployed flexibly to meet need nor are they working to common standards,” he said.
Mr Caller added: “LGSS claims to have delivered significant savings over its period of operation but it is very hard to see what additional saving has been produced by the structural grouping and what could have been generated by normal management action.”
Elsewhere he said the need for clearer accountability was “particularly pertinent, as it appears that LGSS is no longer generating surpluses”.
The report said internal audit was hampered by an inability to flexibly deploy LGSS staff, while risk management had been poor, which was, “hardly surprising as the inspection team were give the impression that some people considered it was the responsibility of an officer in LGSS, rather than senior staff at the council”.
A Cambridgeshire spokesperson said: “As the Northamptonshire County Council best value inspection report was published this morning, we are currently looking through the report and considering its contents and implications.”
Milton Keynes has been approached for comment.