Councils “merger” shock

A “GROUND-BREAKING” collaboration between two councils - merging senior managers and services - could save up to £1.5m a year in a last-ditch bid to protect front-line services.

Talks about North East Derbyshire District Council and Bolsover District Council entering into a formal alliance, but remaining individual authorities, to meet Government funding blows are at an advanced stage with a final decision expected in March.

Creating one joint chief executive and senior management team would be the first money-saving move with uniting services, potentially affecting more jobs, to be looked at as the partnership progressed.

“This is probably the last major chance we’ve got to make savings without cutting front line services”, said Cllr Graham Baxter, NEDDC leader.

“It’s most likely the biggest change since the district councils here were set up in the 1970s – it is ground-breaking.”

The two authorities, which already work together and launched a joint IT service in January, would keep their political and geographical administrative areas without seeking to become one.

But reducing the number of councillors “is always a possibility” after May’s elections, said Cllr Baxter.

Taxpayers – who already face many layers of government in Derbyshire – should not notice change in service quality or extra confusion according to Wes Lumley, chief executive of Bolsover District Council.

He added: “We will do our utmost to ensure they don’t realise. The idea is that if the residents notice anything it will be a (service) improvement.

“This is not a merger of councils, they will retain their individual identities and that’s an absolute priority.”

Initially 23 senior management jobs are affected. It is not known which services could be considered for joint delivery on a case-by-case basis or how many employees that may affect.

Mr Lumley added: “The initial part is the senior management but what we’ll be doing then is looking at all services to see if there is a case for making savings.

“Inevitably if you take the fact the majority of our costs are people, if your trying to make efficiencies and do more with less there will be fewer bodies but how that happens could be in a variety of different ways.”

“We told staff yesterday (Tuesday) so it’s very early to gauge the response and in the management team there was an air of despondancy – this is people’s livelihoods we are talking about – but it’s something that has to be done.”

Costs of losing management would mean savings were lower in the first year, but could total £1.5million between the two authorities afterwards.

The alliance is not the first with the prospect being considered by councils nationwide.

ellen.beardmore@derbyshiretimes.co.uk.