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Unitaries over-deliver on efficiencies

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Savings from the last round of unitary councils to be created have exceeded expectations by £52m, the government insisted last week.

Rosie Winterton MP

Rosie Winterton MP

In a parliamentary answer, local government minister Rosie Winterton said savings of £159m had been set out in council budgets when only £107m had been anticipated.

Top of the big savers was Cheshire West and Chester Council with £29m savings in 2009-10, compared with the £8m originally anticipated. East Cheshire Council was expected to make £25m savings, compared with the £9m originally budgeted.

However, Wiltshire Council’s savings of £8.6m fell well short of the £18m originally estimated.

Chris Buttress, public sector partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said tighter funding and recessionary pressures had led all councils to seek savings, not just new unitaries.

“These savings have been budgeted but how many of the councils would have had to make savings of a similar level anyway, even if they had not restructured?”

Jeremy Pembroke (Con), leader of Suffolk CC, expressed disappointment that his council’s unitary plans, designed to save £90m over five years, were knocked back by ministers.

Cllr Pembroke said Suffolk would drive efficiency by collaborating with other organisations in a drive to eliminate duplication, similar to the Total Place programme.

“What we are looking at now is … the way we deliver services,” he said.

Both the national Conservative leadership and individual councils spared reorganisation have expressed scepticism about the scope for savings from unitary councils.

Leader of North Devon DC David Brailey (Con) said: “Although we are very relieved that the Devon-wide option has been dropped, we are mystified at why this lengthy and expensive process was necessary.”

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