Ministers have created a £9.2m incentive fund for authorities considering “radical” efficiency measures such as shared management.
Local government minister Brandon Lewis (Con) announced the creation of a “challenge award” during Wednesday’s Commons’ debate on the local government finance settlement.
West Somerset DC, which was branded ‘unviable’ in a recent LGA report, looks set to be a bidder to the bid as it prepares to share services with Taunton Deane BC.
Mr Lewis said the fund was designed to reward “radical, forward thinking councils” who went beyond the “usual” sharing of back office and pursued “real front line changes”. It was particularly relevant for “small districts which should be looking to bring their management together”, he said.
Iain Liddell-Grainger (Con), MP for Bridgewater in Somerset, thanked the minister for making it possible for West Somerset and Taunton Deane to combine their services and management teams “at nil cost to either council”.
The two authorities have been in talks since before Christmas but there have been concerns amongst Taunton Deane councillors that a sharing arrangement would leave them out of pocket, an outcome they have insisted is unacceptable.
The creation of the challenge award also follows requests from leaders and chief executives already involved in sharing arrangements that some incentive be created to ensure others followed suit. There have been concerns that the number of new sharing arrangements was beginning to slow down, a point recently made by a newly created special interest group of sharing councils when they met ministers.
During the debate Mr Lewis was asked whether authorities already sharing managers could bid for a back-dated award.
Although the minister did not respond directly, he said the fund responded to concerns about “how we reward councils that do the right thing”.
These concerns were raised after an “efficiency support grant” was announced in the settlement but turned out to be a rebadged transition grant for the councils facing the largest funding cuts.
During Mr Lewis’ post-settlement teleconference with councillors and officers the joint chief executive of Babergh and Mid Suffolk DCs, Charlie Aden, said she had disappointed to discover the “efficiency support grant” was not meant for councils such as hers. “Where is the reward for those already doing efficiency?” she asked.
Further details are to be released in due course, including details about which councils might be eligible for the funding.