Executive Committees at both Guildford and Waverley borough councils in Surrey have endorsed working more closely together and have agreed to explore potential options for the councils to share resources, potentially leading to combining services and administrative functions.
Throughout the pandemic, both councils have worked hard to maintain essential services, help vulnerable communities and support their local economies.
However, the additional costs of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted on already stretched council budgets.
A recent report into local government reorganisation and collaboration, published earlier this month, highlighted a clear need for neighbouring authorities across Surrey to consider the expansion of existing partnerships to reduce the duplication of services, be more efficient and provide increased value for money.
It is hoped that a range of opportunities can be identified that will lead to both savings and better, more sustainable local services for residents under two separate democratic councils.
These could include cost savings achieved by sharing a single team for functions, such as management teams, economies of scale in the delivery of some services and increased purchasing power when meeting with suppliers and contractors.
Commenting, Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Councillor Joss Bigmore said: "We are keen to explore closer working with Waverley Borough Council as a way to future-proof and protect our services to our residents and businesses and keep them local.
“I believe that the stark reality of our budget challenges means we must explore ambitious plans. A merged set of officers supporting two separate groups of councillors is a model that has been implemented in councils across the country, delivering increased resilience in service and cost savings to budgets.
“At Guildford, we need to find £6m over the next four years to maintain our service provision, and recent changes by the government restrict our abilities to act in the commercial world to offset substantial reduction in government funding.”
Waverley Borough Council Leader, Councillor John Ward added: "Even before the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Waverley Borough Council was facing a large financial challenge due to falling government funding and increasing costs. We have embarked on an ambitious programme of measures to deliver cost savings and to maximise the use of our assets to increase income.
“However, we still have a residual budget shortfall over the next four years of £7.8million, so further compensating measures must be identified and we are exploring a range of options including collaboration.”
“We are looking at ways cooperation with our neighbour Guildford will enable us to make financial savings and improve our services.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen first-hand how residents can benefit from partnership working between local authorities through the work to support our communities. We will be exploring any and all options to continue to deliver and improve the vital services that our residents rely on, now more so than ever."
Both of the council’s Executive Committees have agreed to engage the Local Government Association (LGA) to carry out a scoping report on detailed options and potential savings for partnership working.