By Jennifer Sprinks
Local government must act now to develop shared services or face cost-cutting measures after the comprehensive spending review, a New Local Government Network report warns.
NLGN director Chris Leslie said: 'With the Gershonists demanding further efficiency savings, we localists believe pooled activities can occur without sacrificing cherished policies and clear oversight - but councils will need to be smart in how they engage with this.'
He said government should avoid temptation to mandate change and instead give incentives to share services.
Meanwhile, a report by think tank Policy Exchange says that although the current structures are inefficient, a move to conventional unitary status to boost efficiency is also unattractive because it would reduce democratic representation.
No more tiers puts forward a federal-style unitary model for two-tier areas. It says any new unitaries should set up local committees to delegate tasks upwards but retain local accountability.
The report follows LGC's exclusive survey that showed more than half of county councils are considering unitary bids (LGC, 30 November).
Report author Glyn Gaskarth said: 'I think many counties recognise that simply abolishing districts, while it achieves efficiencies, results in a democratic problem. So this [model] is about keeping power as local as possible. The federal model achieves the efficiencies of a unitary model without reducing democratic representation.'
Federal-style unitaries explained
>> One council with a unified officer structure under a chief executive.
>> Local committees would raise precepts for local services.
>> A county committee would set a countywide budget and raise precepts for strategic services.
>> Decisions taken at the county level could be overturned by a majority of local committees.