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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.

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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.’

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