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Merge councils and save tax payers a whole lot of cash
12:08pm Thursday 16th January 2014 in Columns
I WASN’T a fan of local government reorganisation and the way it was implemented in Cheshire.
I could understand it when they hived off Warrington to become a unitary authority. To some extent, I could also understand it when they did the same with Halton.
Both of those are fairly large, clearly defined urban areas with a critical mass of council tax-paying residents.
What we were then left with was a mish-mash of towns (plus the city of Chester) spread out among Cheshire’s countryside.
If local government reorganisation was then to be foisted on us, what bright spark, I wonder, came up with the idea of splitting Cheshire in two?
The whole point of unitary authorities, surely, is to do away with duplication but the way we now have it with Cheshire East and the extravagantly named Cheshire West and Chester, we now have two of everything – two chief executives, two heads of social services, education, regeneration etc.
Let’s not forget that before the Whitehall mandarins got the hands on our lovely county, we already had an organisation (one organisation) running a lot of these services called Cheshire County Council.
What’s more, Cheshire County Council threw its hat into the ring to be a single unitary authority for the whole of Cheshire (minus of course Warrington and Halton).
The county council, as it was, already had responsibility and expertise at running schools and social services but was broken up, almost on a political whim.
Then what happened?
Why, the recession, of course followed by a change of Government with our new Westminster masters viewing the public sector as flabby and ripe for cutting back.
Well, as the song says: You’re going to reap just what you sow, and we now face something of a nightmare situation in Cheshire West and Chester with councillors next month having to debate and vote on proposals to cut 400 jobs in a bid to make even more budget savings.
The council says these are ‘unavoidable’ staff reductions which will save £14.7m and are aimed at bridging a £49m financial gap in the council’s coffers.
But don’t worry, as the Guardian reported, the staff cuts over the next three years will focus ‘mainly on senior and middle management posts’.
Well. That’s ok then, phew, it’s only managers who will lose their livelihoods.
Or will that be the end of it? Apparently not because a council spokesman went on to add that the cuts will also affect staff across the board in six council services.
But this isn’t the first round of job cuts at Cheshire West and Chester. Since it came into being in 2009 it has shed around 1,200 staff.
Now it may well be the council was overstaffed in the first instance and many of these cuts were necessary as the fledgling council found its feet.
But as a user of council services, it feels like these cuts are beginning to bite and their effects are starting to be felt on the front line.
I really hope the optimism of CWAC leader Clr Mike Jones isn’t misplaced when he said: “We will continue to restructure, innovate, increase efficiency and eliminate waste and duplication by sharing services with other authorities, while doing everything to protect frontline services, especially for vulnerable children and elderly residents.”
Perhaps Clr Jones holds the key to a successful and thrifty future after all. Perhaps he really knows what he’s talking about.
Please just take a moment or two to read his words carefully: ‘continue to restructure’; ‘eliminate waste and duplication’; ‘sharing services with other authorities’.
Now I’m a simple soul and I have only the sketchiest knowledge of how local authorities run themselves but I have a suggestion, one I may well have put forward before.
Why not ‘continue to restructure’ all the way to a merger with Cheshire East to form the single authority for Cheshire we should have had in the first place.
That would be a sure way to ‘eliminate waste and duplication’.
My final thought is just one insight into the world of duplication.
Have a quick look on the internet for the salaries of the chief executives of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester.
CWAC’s chief exec is paid around £180,000 a year. Cheshire East’s chief exec was on £173,000 basic (more than £200,000 with bonuses and pension payments). The new chief exec has had his salary ‘slashed’ to a mere £150,000 with a potential £10,000 bonus.
Time for a merger and the end to this duplication, I think.