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London tri-borough shared services to be reviewed

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Hammersmith & Fulham LBC’s new Labour leadership has indicated it wants to extend the flagship ‘tri-borough’ shared service arrangements beyond the three councils that created it.

Questions were raised about the future of the partnership which also features Kensington & Chelsea RBC and Westminster City Council after Labour won control of Hammersmith & Fulham in last week’s elections and called for a review of how the tri-borough operated.

Labour’s election ended the situation of all three partners being Conservative controlled which had existed since the tri-borough’s formation in 2011. At present the authorities share services including adult care, children’s services and library services, while Nicholas Holgate serves as chief executive of all partners except Westminster.

Hammersmith & Fulham’s new leader Stephen Cowan last week told the BBC he wanted to “retain but reform” the working relationship.

However, sources from all parties suggested the political divide was unlikely to result in any shared service schemes being shelved.

Max Schmid, a Labour Hammersmith & Fulham councillor and a spokesman for the party, said the group was open to the idea of working with any authority that could help deliver savings while maintaining services. He named Labour controlled Brent, Ealing and Hounslow LBCs as potential partners.

Cllr Schmid said: “We want to achieve savings through sharing services, which is necessary because of the financial climate, but we also want to protect and enhance the services residents receive. We are very happy to continue working with these two boroughs where these objectives are met but we are also interested in working with other neighbouring boroughs.”

Nicholas Botterill, the ousted Conservative leader who has stepped down from his role in chagre of the party following Thursday’s defeat, told LGC he was concerned about the future of the tri-borough and did not think Labour should be looking to work with even more local authorities at this stage.

He said: “I’m not against working with more councils but we have got an existing agreement and you have got to secure that first and make sure everyone is happy and they are doing what we want. Now is not necessarily the time to talk about teaming up with others.

“The tri-borough can develop far more savings more easily than starting discussions with other boroughs about sharing other services.

“It doesn’t fill me with confidence that their first move is to say that is the future.”

Westminster leader Philippa Roe (Con) told LGC that while Cllr Cowan’s requests for a review were likely to delay the impending implementation of shared corporate services, such as IT, legal and human resources, she did not anticipate major problems.

Cllr Roe said while she was “disappointed” the Conservatives had been ousted from Hammersmith & Fulham, she thought the structure of the tri-borough would withstand any political differences.

Former Kensington & Chelsea RBC leader Sir Merrick Cockell (Con), who was instrumental in the tri-borough’s creation, told LGC there were provisions for a council to leave the arrangement but he added Hammersmith & Fulham would need to find similar savings elsewhere in order to make that move viable, if it were to choose this approach.

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