National and Devolved Politics

07.06.18

Council mergers on the rise as almost 500 shared services deals agreed to cope with austerity

Local governments around England have made at least 486 agreements to share services with other councils in the past seven years in an effort to trim costs in times of austerity.

The signed deals have saved authorities at least £657m since 2010 through sharing of services such as finance, emergency services, property, IT and community safety.

Figures from the LGA show that 98% of the authorities who provided data are sharing services with a neighbouring local government, with agreements made rising every year but one since 2008.

With councils facing severe budget cuts – Northamptonshire, for example, recently had to sell its HQ and welcome in government commissioners to deal with its bankruptcy – they have had to team-up with nearby authorities to prevent further closures of public services. These can range from public libraries, infrastructure repairs and waste management, to children’s services and care support for the elderly.

Mergers between councils are also on the rise: figures showed 80 new mergers in the last full year available of 2016, compared with 30 in 2010.

Last month councilors of Taunton Deane and West Somerset councils were “delighted” to receive official approval of a merger between the two councils.

The creation of two unitary councils and dissolvement of the current nine in Dorset, expected to save £108m over six years, also highlight the growing number of authorities joining forces in a bid to cut costs.

And on Monday, Cherwell District Council’s executive committee and cabinet members from Oxfordshire County Council approved plans to work implement joint working arrangements. Cllr Barry Wood of Cherwell District said: “We will consider all partnerships that fit with our culture. We do not operate a ‘one size fits all’ policy, but take individual decisions based on customer need and experience.

“These proposals will enable each council to retain its own identity and enable us to align operations across both authorities to ensure joined-up service delivery for everyone in Cherwell.”

Speaking to the Financial Times, Linze Schaap, who researches local governance at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said that mergers are part of a Europe-wide trend since the economic downturn.

He added, however, that locals could become disenfranchised with larger councils: “Citizens identify less with the new, larger municipality, turnout tends to drop significantly, councillors represent more residents and other citizen participation is more difficult.”

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Image credit: jax10289

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