Could Chorley and South Ribble councils save cash by co-operating more closely?

Chorley Council chief executive and South Ribble Council's temporary head of paid service, Gary Hall
Chorley Council chief executive and South Ribble Council's temporary head of paid service, Gary Hall
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There are unlikely to be any further savings to be extracted from the current agreement to share services between Chorley and South Ribble councils, a meeting of the two authorities has heard.

The decade-long arrangement to work together across the councils’ finance and assurance departments has reduced costs by almost £600,000 a year for the district neighbours.

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But Chorley Council chief executive Gary Hall – who is also in temporary charge at South Ribble – told the shared services joint committee that the authorities had “probably eked out the majority of savings we can make under these services”.

Councillors from the two boroughs had met to discuss stalled plans to extend their joint working to cover their legal and human resources teams.

It was announced last September that new directors were to be installed to take the councils’ collaborative project forward – but there has been little sign of progress since.

The possibility of an expanded agreement was discussed in a private part of the meeting and details have not yet been made public.

However, members heard that the existing sharing services arrangement had not necessarily resulted in the implementation of similar systems across the two councils.

“We’re still doing so much differently and common sense would suggest that’s not the most efficient way we should be working,” South Ribble leader Paul Foster said.

Gary Hall said that future efficiencies under the current arrangement were likely to come from “using people’s time differently”, rather than cash savings.

The meeting was also told that the councils’ separately outsourced payroll systems – thought to cost around £100,000 a year – “do not facilitate the development of a shared [human resources] service”.

Chorley cabinet member Graham Dunn said that the “attitude” of the authorities to closer co-operation had been reflected in the terminology which they had used to describe it.

“One of the problems is the use of the phrase ‘shared services’ and all that implies – what we need are joint services,” he said.

But South Ribble councillor Colin Clark said that the description was “the best explanation of what we do – and [the project] has succeeded”.

Papers presented to the committee warned that the “scale and complexity” of developments including Chorley’s Market Walk extension and South Ribble’s leisure campus project meant that it was vital to ensure that the finance department had sufficient capacity to cope with the additional demands.

Meanwhile, a new role of senior financial accountant has been created to meet the “urgent” need to ensure the authorities can complete their accounts next year.