Thursday, 02 October 2014

Rent and development services could be shared between three councils

Council merger could save £100m

The housing departments of three London councils could merge as part of a plan to save up to £100 million.

Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster City and Kensington and Chelsea councils have pledged to look at sharing every council service to cut costs. The councils, which between them own 50,000 homes, are setting up working groups to look at merging children’s and environmental services, as well as adult social care and corporate services. The groups will report back to councillors in February.

Stephen Greenhalgh, leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, said eventually the three councils’ housing departments could also merge.

‘There is no intrinsic opposition to any aspect of what the council does being shared,’ he said. ‘There are many areas, such as rent collection and development, where we couldshare expertise and skills. A lot of this is stuff that should not be visible to residents.’

Mr Greenhalgh said each borough would retain political accountability by keeping elected members for housing and that each borough would have its own delivery arm within any new structure to provide their area with the homes it needs.

The merging of the authorities’ housing departments, which employ 236 people in total, is complicated by the fact each borough has different arrangements for the management of its stock, said Mr Greenhalgh. This is partly why housing has been left out of the first tranche of merged services.

Westminster City’s 22,000 homes are managed by arm’s-length management organisation CityWest Homes, while Hammersmith & Fulham is consulting on moving its ALMO, which manages 18,000 homes, back in-house to save £400,000. Kensington and Chelsea’s stock of just under 10,000 properties is managed by a tenant management organisation.

A spokesperson for the Hammersmith & Fulham Federation Of Tenants’ & Residents’ Association said: ‘I could see how this could work in terms of things like rent collection, because a lot of it is done by computer now anyway, so you don’t necessarily need local teams. But I’d be concerned if waiting lists were merged as we have a longer waiting list than Kensington and Chelsea.’

Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, praised the councils’ plan. He told the BBC: ‘These councils are leading the way in local government and voters will expect others to get on board and follow suit.’

Readers' comments (21)

  • Sidney Webb

    Pickles supporting Livingstone policy - what ever would Boris say?

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  • Sharing back-office services to make them more efficient so that front line services can remain as inefficient as ever?

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  • "The local authorities hope that the housing functions of the councils, which between them own 60,000 homes, will eventually also be included.

    The housing stock of Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster is managed by arm’s-length management organisations, while Kensington and Chelsea’s homes are managed by a tenant management organisation."

    I dont think the issue is who manages the housing stock, but rather each and every council still has housing and homelessness mandatory duties that they cant transfer to an ALMO or to some new council (supercouncil?) construct. Given that these ar epresumably the same councils that are exporting worklessness and block buying stock in outlying boroughs that difficulty will emerge strongly as the 3 councils have a bunfight over who pays!

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  • Is this the Tories much vaunted localism????????????

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  • Long Overdue Cull of the wastes of space at malingerer's paradise-hope the top earners bear the brunt-there are good people in LA's whon simply get smothered by the beaurocracy and surplus layers of middle & senior management.
    a good cartharsis will benefit the good staff and the council tax payers alike

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  • Interesting comment PSR. I believe it was a Newt plan to create 8 super boroughs in London so this would indeed be a move in such a direction. Eventually the Newt had to have a good idea. It looks like this was it. Islington of course are planning to "share" a CE with Camden of course so it looks like mergers are on the table all round. What about councillors though? Could there be a justification for each mega-borough to retain the same number of councillors as when they were separate? Expect tears before bedtime on this one...

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  • Chris

    This may surprise some but the age of the Councillor was somewhere between the Victorian era and current day. The future would be more effective and efficient if the services were run as business units answerable to consumer panels that were empowered in law.
    If MPs wish to employ local ward case workers then that is a matter for them, otherwise what else are Councillors really for?
    This is not a dig at allowances nor expenses, as the panels will probably have a higher face cost collectively. It is however a refelection that after so many years of centralisation of power the term local politics has lost meaning and relevance - hence the ever declining voter turn out.
    My suggested framework, allbeit outline, I believe would gain cross party support (although maybe not from councillors and wanerbees).

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  • CW: "what else are Councillors really for?"

    In essence to hold the council officers to account and represent the will of the electorate. That's the theory anyway. The reality is that there are some really good councillors of all parties who can and do perform this role. Then there are the party liggers who just put their name down on the list and find themselves elected. Unfortunately the latter are in the majority. The herd (ie the electorate) tend to vote on party lines thus most councillors of all parties are duffers. It's altogether better to get to know the candidates and vote for the person, irrespective of party. Councillors have had huge decision making powers returned to them by this Administration; it is a good time to be a councillor. However as long as the old party system remains, the majority will still be duffers. Which is a shame. The herd need to learn not to vote on a party basis in local elections but rather vote for the individuals putting themselves forward. Not holding breath on this happening any time soon though...!

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  • There's times, just now and again, when I have hope for Webbles.

    Then along comes this clunker: "business units answerable to consumer panels that were empowered in law".

    This is a statement that comes in a circuitous route through Harvard Business School, London Business School, Metropolitan University, Islington FE college, the men's urinal on Islington Green, and then misheard by Webbles.

    It might have started out as just possibly plausible but is redacted down to meaningless Webble only half-way through pasteurization before excretion on the Green.

    Get this. It is the whole point of a bureaucracy that it is never going to be accountable. That's why it exists: not to be or to be but to be unaccountable.

    Piglet's way is the only way. Chuck 'em out the windows wholesale. Bayonet the buggers that survive. It's a humane action. For the sake of humanity it must be done.

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  • Indeed. Besides who would get to choose who on the "consumer panels"? If the electorate that what the difference between the current councillor system and that? Other than the party politics. Which is inescapable. Or if not the electorate then surely not the council officers? Doesn't "consumer panel" sound a little but like "focus group"? Hand picked by the officers and guaranteed to nod their head when told to. Bit like an ALMO board member...!

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