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A spirit of collaboration is what's required to get through these straitened times. The Communities Minister was quick to make this statement to Local authorities the moment he began his role back in May 2010.And it seems it has not been lost on Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. These three Local authorities have unveiled ambitious plans to merge a whole range of areas, including children's services and adult social care


The boroughs are hoping the proposals will compensate for their reduction in government funding, to the tune of nearly £35m by the year 2014/15. Not only will key service areas be merged but so will senior management teams. But crucially, separate democratic functions will be maintained.

Editor, Scott Buckler caught up with Melvyn Caplan, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resource at Westminster City Council, to discuss the collaboration with the London Boroughs and what impact Shared Services can have on service delivery.

Melvyn, can you explain more about the partnership with Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea Borough Councils?

There are no plans to merge the three councils. What we are looking at, on a case by case basis, is sharing back office services in areas such as finance, procurement and property. We will be looking at a partnership to see where services can be shared. Management for instance is a good example, why have three I.T managers when one can function the same. Back office functions such as HR , Procurement and Finance are the easy ones. We kick-started the sharing of services with education and children services and are also looking at adult services. Why have three people running standards of attainment when one will suffice. We will not see the major savings from the partnership happening for another two years.

Why did the Councils decide to begin such a partnership?

It was something which has been discussed  for a while, well before the recent funding cuts to local government. Westminster has always had a philosophy to outsource services where necessary, it is not dogmatic that it must go to private sector companies, we always discussed with our Borough neighbours to share services when opportunities arose. The funding cuts have also acted as a catalyst to start using resources more effectively.

Do you believe shared service usage is solely restricted to the London Boroughs given their geographical  location?

I would say that there are some services which are more geographically dependent, however if you look at back office services such as procurement,HR and I.T, these areas are not dependent on location. Westminster outsourced their housing benefit service to Capita, who are not London based, so I think back office shared services are certainly not restricted, but I accept some frontline services probably are.

What affect has the recent Funding cuts, if any, had on services in Westminster?

We passed our budget two weeks ago, we had to find savings of around £60 million pounds over the next two years. We have managed to find around 80% of our savings from back office rather than the front line. Fortunately we have been able to avoid big front line reductions which affect our communities. It has always been part of the Councils DNA to seek cost savings so we were not taken back by the recent cuts. There are conversations taking place between many other London Boroughs to adapt such a model we have demonstrated with our colleagues at Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea. It can be a long process to create shared services but one with significant rewards.

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Written by Melvyn Caplan   
Friday, 25 March 2011 09:39
Last Updated on Friday, 25 March 2011 11:46


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