'No takeover' of South Ribble Borough Council by Chorley Council, as the authorities reveal how much they have saved by sharing services

South Ribble and Chorley councils have recommitted to sharing many of their services and staff – and denied that the arrangement represents a “takeover” of one borough by the other.

By Paul Faulkner
Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 12:02 am
Updated Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 12:04 am

South Ribble and Chorley councils have recommitted to sharing many of their services and staff – and denied that the arrangement represents a “takeover” of one borough by the other.

The neighbouring authorities have generated £1.3m in annual savings between them since they first merged some of their back office operations in the late 2000s.

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Chorley and South Ribble councils will continue to share many of their services

Under that initial agreement, the pair combined their financial and assurance services. But the deal has vastly broadened over the last two years – during which time more than half of the total savings have been achieved – with the councils now sharing their governance, transformation, communications and tourism functions.

They have also had the same chief executive and senior directors since January 2021 – and are currently also bringing together their ICT and customer services departments.

However, papers presented to the recent budget meetings of each of the Labour-run councils note the “perception of a Chorley takeover in some parts of South Ribble Borough Council”.

That was a claim also made by Mathew Forshaw, the Conservative candidate in the by-election in the Bamber East ward in South Ribble late last year. He pointed to the number of Chorley-originating officers who had been appointed to senior posts across both councils under the new shared services structure.

However, South Ribble leader Paul Foster said that the reaffirmed deal – which includes a new set of principles stressing the sovereignty and separate priorities of each of the authorities – served to “get rid of all these untruths that keep being told about a Chorley takeover”.

The Conservative opposition group at South Ribble said that it still supported the shared services concept – which began on its watch – while over in Chorley, their Tory counterparts claimed that “disgruntlement” in South Ribble about Chorley’s purported dominance had been “quashed”.

However, Chorley Conservative opposition group leader Martin Boardman said that he “wouldn’t like to see the recruitment of [future] directorships as a levelling up arrangement” between the two authorities.

His comments could prove prescient as both councils also approved plans to create two new senior shared services posts. A director of change and delivery will be appointed to increase capacity and improve how service overhauls are managed, while a strategic lead for future investments will deal with potential development opportunities across both boroughs.

The authorities also approved a consultation over the creation of a permanent shared arrangement to oversee the plethora of existing development projects.

>>> Chorley Council budget 2022: cash for play facilities, climate change and a Youth Zone bus .

In summing up the performance of the shared services deal to date, Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said that it had had “its good bit and its bad bits”.

“To do a shared arrangement at a time of Covid has put a significant strain on our management capacity [and] on our staff and probably on our members as well. We need to work out whether it’s the impact of Covid alone, the impact of shared services alone or it’s a combination of both, which, [in] my own view, is probably what it is,” Cllr Bradley commented.

The Tory group suggested that the new posts and arrangements should be put on hold until a new joint chief executive for both councils takes charge at the end of the year.

However, Cllr Bradley said that it would be riskier to wait and that there was a need to “get on with it”, because of the number of major projects in the pipeline.

The authorities will also conduct a review of the management capacity for shared services and develop proposals for its next phase – although this will be less ambitious than previous iterations and will focus on specific functions where there is a deemed need for change, rather than on the wholesale merging of complete directorates.

The pest control service for the two boroughs will also be combined – with South Ribble extending its current in-house operation to replace an external contractor currently engaged by Chorley.

South Ribble’s cabinet member for finance, property and assets Matthew Tomlinson said that neighbouring authorities should pursue “opportunities not just to do things perhaps cheaper, but to do things better for residents – and surely that’s what we’re all here for”.

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