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Share services, get them better, faster, cheaper, demand Liberal Democrat councillors.

February 4, 2015 10:22 PM
By Robin Ashby

Moving a motion urging better co-operation across local authority boundaries, said it was in line with policies pledging to be a Co-operative Council and with the urgent need to increase efficiency in order to preserve services while reducing costs.
"I have no doubt the Labour leadership will tell us this is already happening. Good. I look forward to the details. But it needs to happen more widely and more quickly and with greater innovation, " he said.
"It was with some interest that I read the submission from the Newcastle Council for Voluntary Services to the Council Leader a few days ago criticising the City's lack of collaboration with the voluntary sector, and making some suggestions that could be useful.
"At the margins, I have heard no fundamental reason why we shouldn't have single regional police, fire and ambulance services. If it's good enough for Scotland, which is only twice our population but with much larger distances between them, it should be good enough for us too.
"The people of Parklands Ward don't give a jot for where the Chief Constable sits, or where the bureaucracies are housed. They do care about the local sergeant and his team, and that wouldn't change.
"And that's the same with Newcastle City Council. People don't worry on which side of a notional line thay are or live.If services are provided, the mechanism is irrelevant. If Newcastle City Council shared a Chief Executive, as NE Derbyshire and Bolsover councils do, no-one on the doorstep would care. By the way, his £115,000 salary is paid half by each council and his annual appraisal is overseen by elected members.
"The Solent Green Deal- an initiative by Liberal Democrats in Government - is a local authority shared services project, involving Portsmouth City Council, Eastleigh Borough Council, and Southampton City Council. It provides an independent services at no cost to the tax-payer, and any profits are used to finance other local authority sustainability schemes. It's run from Portsmouth Civic Offices
"Westminster City Council, Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council, and Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council run combined specific areas of service delivery as their response to financial pressures facing all local government in England.
"The councils remain legally distinct entities responsible for service specification and delivery.
Since June 2011 each council's children's service, adult social care and library service has been combined to create a single service.
"Each of these services is headed by a single executive director and a shared management team. Councillors from each council retain responsibility for the way the shared service is provided in their local area.
"Specific areas of corporate services have also been combined across the three councils. This has included creating a joint chief executive for Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea and a single treasury and pensions team.
"A shared environment and leisure team has also been created across Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea. In total, the tri-borough is expected to achieve target savings of £33.4m by this April. Additional savings of £7m are expected to be made next year.
"The total population of these 3 adjacent London boroughs is 563,000, compared with 480,000 for Newcastle and North Tyneside or Newcastle and Gateshead.
"It is clear that such mega-transformations require political leadership but also a philosophical shift in perception from the Council as unitary and unchanging to one that is truly co-operative with its neighbours for the greater good.
"The Government isn't prepared to give us the money to do everything in-house any longer, and the Labour Party's General Election policy won't be to fill our pockets with gold again. So if we can't share services with other local authorities then we may be forced to provide them at lower price by getting someone else to do them better, faster, cheaper.
"The future can be in our own hands if we grasp it now, and live up to the rhetoric of the Co-operating Council. We need leadership for a better tomorrow rather than a better yesterday, where our people, their needs and their pockets come first.

"The Council cannot any longer be a sole provider. It must become a specifier of services and an arbiter of quality - a philosophical shift."

Councillor Stephen Psallidas seconded the motion, say :

"Lord Mayor, we have faced more entirely predictable knee-jerk criticism of the Coalition from the party opposite, which is hardly relevant to this Motion. If I stated that the Sun rises in the east every morning, Cllr Riley would bound to his feet and denounce it as the fault of the Evil Coalition! But just as the Sun rising in the east is a fact of life, another fact of life is that the squeeze on local government finance is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

"The truth is that the two Ronnies, sorry the two Eds, have clearly stated that they would be continuing this squeeze, in the unlikely event that a Labour government is elected in May. Yes, Labour might tinker at the edges and make the cuts a little fairer, and the group on this side of the chamber have explicitly supported the majority group in representations to Government about the unfairness of cuts to Newcastle. But the Administration have simply not grasped the nettle of fundamental and radical re-organisation of Council services in a way which will help to minimise impacts on residents, who should be the key consideration for all of us.

"Sharing services with adjacent Councils may be being blocked by the pathetic intra-Labour bickering in Tyne and Wear, which regularly features in the local media, and has again today with reference to events in Redcar. But why should the residents of Newcastle and Tyne and Wear suffer as a result?

"To give an example, I sit on the Corporate Parenting Committee, and I see buses in Gateshead advertising for foster parents and adopters for Newcastle children. I see billboards in North Tyneside advertising for foster parents for Gateshead children. Why on earth should there be this duplication and artificial division - does a vulnerable child who needs a foster placement care about lines on a map? What about Electoral Services and other database-driven services?

"It's welcome to have saved money in various places as outlined in the amendment of the group opposite, but they need to be far more ambitious in the fundamental reshaping of services that is required, and investigation of the potential for merging many services with neighbouring authorities. We have to give up the budget-protecting attitudes shown so far, and deliver the services that our residents deserve. I commend the original Motion."

Speaking on the motion, Councillor Greg Stone said :

There have been some sensible suggestions from my colleagues on the Lib Dem side this evening about areas of delivery where we could usefully combine our efforts into a joint framework with neighbouring authorities. To name just a few, adoption, economic development, tourism, and HR could all be delivered jointly.
It might well be argued that the requirement for this has been accelerated by funding reductions and cost pressures, some external, some internal. The administration has made a lot of the unfairness of funding reductions and at least some of that is valid.
But to my mind, it is the circumstances within our control that I think should occupy us this evening. This is a big and important agenda which the watered down amendment does not acknowledge. The issue of joint delivery of social care is increasingly important but we are still along way from progress on this.
There is a major debate as to what the form and function of local government should be in the 21st century, and what shape it should take. I know the NE Chamber of Commerce is offering to work with the council on this agenda and I hope that scrutiny might take up the offer.
It is said, not least by themselves, that the leader and chief executive are highly regarded in local government. As I mentioned last month, the chief executive has been closely involved with a national commission on public service reform and efficiency. Clearly she has a great deal of experience to impart on this agenda, but we are not yet a city at the forefront of implementation on a local or sub-regional level,
While the leader is not here tonight, I think it is relevant to remind council of claims he has made in the past that only he could work more effectively with other Tyne & Wear Labour leaders to get results. Well Lord Mayor, the jury is still out on that one, especially given some high profile fallings out on the NE Combined Authority with the leader of Sunderland.
Given this is the big agenda for local government, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect Newcastle to make more progress on this front. It is all very well to blame someone else for our position, and clearly he would rather blame central government for a shortfall in funding for his own underachievement, but it is within the council's power to get on and design more effective and more efficient shared services with other councils and partners.
This is a big test for his administration and his leadership. Are they going to get on with it, or are they going to be arch centralisers and control freaks, unwilling to let go of some control in order to deliver better services and value for money. We on this side want to see the council doing far more than they have done to date.
Finally, if Cllr Riley and his colleagues are not prepared to take lectures and learn lessons from this side on managing in difficult times, why is it that they have adopted most of the Lib Dem budget amendments they voted against last year in their budget proposals this year?