Page last updated at 12:47 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Councils urged to merge services


The report examined ways local authorities could co-operate to save

Councils in the west of Scotland should work more closely together to help protect public services from cuts, according to a new report.

The call came in a review carried out by former university principal Sir John Arbuthnott.

Sir John has spent six months looking at how eight councils might be able to pool services.

One of his recommendations calls for the creation of a single shared roads maintenance service.

Roads maintenance is one area the report looked into

The local authorities involved were West and East Dunbartonshire, North and South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow and Inverclyde.

Between them, the eight councils have a budget of about £6.5bn a year and employ 76,000 people. Their area is home to 1.75 million people - more than a third of Scotland's population.

The aim of the report, the Clyde Valley Review, was to find ways of allowing the eight councils to work more effectively together and share certain services.

However there is no suggestion of merging the councils themselves or redrawing their boundaries. This would require the permission of the Scottish government.

Sir John's report said that would be a "costly and unproductive exercise at this time".

Councils across Scotland are facing up to difficult spending decisions and expect money to be tight for years to come.

North Lanarkshire alone has said it will need to save £15m next year.

Then it expects to have to cut budgets by at least £60m in the three years after that.

Sir John said councils faced a "huge challenge" to their budgets over the next four years, with a likely reduction in funding of 10% to 15%.

He said "no stone was left unturned" in his attempt to find savings.

The options suggested by Sir John include:

  • Councils and health boards working more closely together to integrate the health and social care services
  • One service to maintain the roads in all eight council areas
  • Sharing offices, buildings and services such as transport, property management and waste management
  • Education departments working more closely together - for instance in organising supply teachers.

About 80% of the money each council has comes from the Scottish government. But it expects to have to work within a tight funding settlement from Westminster for several years to come.

That means the Scottish government will in turn be keeping a tight rein on council budgets.

By cutting out unnecessary duplication and working more effectively together, Sir John hopes councils could be in a better position to protect local services.

For instance the education budgets of the eight councils include £48m on transport, £153m on property and £145m in payments to other bodies. Sir John believes it would be possible to make some savings here through joint working.

Other Scottish councils have also been looking at sharing more services with their neighbours but none of them has commissioned a report as detailed as the Clyde Valley Review.

The eight councils will now study Sir John's recommendations carefully and decide how much of it to put into practice.

Mike Kirby, chairman of the Glasgow City branch of the local government union - Unison - said it was not opposed to change and efficiencies.

Public services

"We think there is always scope for change but what we are faced with here is probably the worst situation I have experienced in 35 years within local government," he said.

"What we see is public services paying for the bail out of the banks."

He added: "If this is solely about cutting jobs then we are all going to lose.

"Local communities are going to lose services, people will lose jobs and what we will see is an increase in the claimant count."

"Some of these councils are already facing difficulties, if this can be dealt with on a voluntary basis then I think we can move forward."

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