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Legacy of reorganisation battles impacts performance, research finds

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Acrimonious battles over the shape of local government in an area produced less effective councils, new research exploring previous rounds of reorganisation suggests.

The consultancy Shared Intelligence conducted interviews with senior officers and politicians from unitary councils created in the 1990s and 2009 and reviewed peer challenges from these councils conducted over the last five years.

It concluded that as well as scale, geography and sense of place the “fight” between the two existing tiers of government during the creation of the new council or councils had an impact on the future success of those organisations.

Several of the 19 interviewees also reported some councils “struggled to move on” once the new organisation was created and “lacked impetus and/or ambition to fully exploit the powers they secured”.

One interviewee from a 2009 unitary said: “History is more prominent in the memory of some staff and members than many of us would like to admit.”

The report, by Phil Swann, said that if ministers seek to achieve local government reorganisation through a “bottom up” process, they must acknowledge that “the legacy of the reorganisation process lingers long after the event and is another key contextual factor”.

“There is evidence to suggest that the more contested the process the less effective the successor councils have proved to be. In many cases collateral damage included the marginalisation of experienced and effective political leaders who were not called on to play leadership roles in the successor council(s),” Mr Swann said.

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