New Dorset unitary council may not be able to balance the books

“… In today’s report, the programme director for the council Keith Cheesman revealed that, whilst most of the transitional costs have been around what was expected, the cost of taking on interim staff to carry out projects related to changing to the new council have been far higher than anticipated and need extra funding.

Cheesman’s report said that the ongoing dispute between the shadow Dorset Council and Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council over the transfer of debts and reserves is yet to be resolved, and also warned that years of reducing employee numbers has left internal employee resources “very limited.”

The merger between Dorset County, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, Weymouth & Portland, and West Dorset councils was given the green light back in May, followed by a lengthy legal battle with Christchurch Borough Council.

Last week, Christchurch BC, which will be part of the second new council, said it was still split over the need to contribute £420,000 towards merger costs.”

http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/new-dorset-council-faces-unbalanced-budget-as-dispute-over-transfer-of-debts-remains-unresolved

Never trust a Tory with numbers!

“Mayor James Palmer admitted he underestimated the cost of running the new combined authority, and says original predictions it would cost £850,000 a year were never going to be realistic.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority was founded in 2017 in a bid to simplify local government. It is involved in many major housing and infrastructure schemes, including the proposed Cambridge metro, and the Wisbech rail link.

However, having initially been hailed as an “efficient” and low-cost authority, some are beginning to worry about rising costs and the “spiralling” cost of paying for staff.

Initially, it had been claimed the authority could be run on £850,000 a year.

Now there are fears costs are “spiralling out of control” after it emerged the authority is set to spend £5.6million on staff salaries alone this year. Total operational costs of the combined authority are set to come to £7.6million.

In leaflets distributed when Conservative James Palmer was running to be mayor of the combined authority, Mr Palmer said: “Under my leadership, the new combined authority will have very few staff, less than 20, and will be very efficient, costing around £850,000 a year to run. Most authorities cost tens of millions. As mayor, I will make sure the cost is kept low.”

Today (November 26) Lucy Nethsingha, chairwoman of the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee, noted that costs at the authority were “considerable higher” than had been originally expected. She asked Mr Palmer what he had to say about the increased costs.

Mr Palmer now says he “can only apologise” for the increased costs of running the authority, saying he “underestimated” its running costs.

Mr Palmer said: “I can only apologise. I underestimated the cost of running such an important authority. I think, realistically, we were never going to be able to function on £850,000 a year.”

Mr Palmer said he was concerned about costs at the authority which is why he has commissioned a review of its structure. He also pointed out that the combined authority had taken on staff and spending from the local enterprise partnership (LEP), a group which supported business and sustainable investment and growth, which was scrapped in December 2017.

Mr Palmer also noted that senior staff at the combined authority were not earning more than similarly senior staff in other tiers of local government. He said, however, that after the review is completed, he anticipates the authority will be spending less on staffing. He said he expects running costs to be reduced as the authority relies less on consultants.

“It is a difficult one, “said Mr Palmer. “It’s something the general public rightly gets concerned about. It is their money. But we are working to deliver extraordinary infrastructure and doing things that were previously not achievable.”

https://www.elystandard.co.uk/news/james-palmer-and-cost-of-combined-authority-1-5795358

More on that unitary council “sunset clause”

(See post below also)

Looks like, after March 2019 there will be no chance of a Devon unitary council as ALL councils to be subsumed will have to agree.

To many vested interests (particularly in the area of planning!) even if there were financial savings to be had. Developers trump savings!

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=37206%3Acommunities-secretary-warns-councils-ahead-of-change-to-process-on-reorganisations&catid=59&Itemid=27

Another county goes unitary – despite local district council opposition

Owl says: the “sunset clause” (see below) is a new one to me!

“John Fuller, chair of the District Councils’ Network umbrella group, said: “This unwelcome decision has not secured the local consent amongst the elected local councils that was called for in March.”

He blamed the decision on “ill-conceived legislation” – the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act. This act contains a sunset clause, which expires next March, permitting the secretary of state to fast track structural and boundary changes with the consent of only one local authority.

Brokenshire said that “the great majority” of local public sector partners backed the plans including the police, ambulance service, clinical commissioning group and NHS trusts.

He also said it would improve local government and establish a “credible geography”, thus meeting the criteria needed for structural change.

Brokenshire did acknowledge there were concerns that a single unitary might weaken democratic engagement at the most local level.

“To help reassure any who might be concerned on this, I intend to speak with five councils to determine whether I should modify the proposal before implementing it,” he said.

Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, hailed the decision as “historic” and called for unity among local leaders.

“The announcement paves the way for a brand new council, fit for the future, created by combining the best of both county and district councils,” he said.

“This new council will be simpler, better value and more local to our residents. It will also have more clout to face head-on the great strategic challenges facing the county over the coming decades.”

Brokenshire said he would also consult on whether to delay local elections due to take place in May 2019, to avoid councillors being elected for only one year.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/11/buckinghamshire-set-single-unitary-status

“Lack of government lawyers [due to Brexit work] delaying preparations for council merger”

“A lack of government lawyers as a result of Brexit is to blame for delays in producing the necessary orders for a merger of two local authorities in the South West of England, it has been claimed.

The County Gazette has reported that three orders from central government are needed to transfer all the necessary legal powers to the authority that will take over from Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council.

An apppendix to a paper presented at a meeting of Taunton Deane’s scrutiny committee last week said: “Still waiting on MHCLG [the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government] finalising – Brexit impacting on MHCLG’s ability to access lawyers in a timely fashion.

“As long as final version is very similar to draft sould not cause too great an issue. The uncertainty is the concern however.”

The appendix said a general order had been due to be published on 24 July this year.

The merger of Taunton Deane and West Somerset was backed in March by the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid.”

Source: Local Government Lawyer

Dis-unitisation: Bankrupt Tory council splits in two

Owl says: do debts go 50/50?

“Stricken Northamptonshire County Council has voted to abolish itself in the first of a series of meetings due this week to settle the authority’s fate.
Councillors backed the proposal to replace the county and its districts with two new unitary councils. These would be North Northamptonshire, covering Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough, and West Northamptonshire comprising Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire.

Each district has a meeting due this week to vote on the proposal, which will then go to communities secretary James Brokenshire.

A report to the county council noted that Max Caller, the inspector appointed to report to the government on Northamptonshire’s financial plight, had said: “The problems faced by NCC are now so deep and ingrained that it is not possible to promote a recovery plan that could bring the council back to stability and safety in a reasonable timescale” and that a unitary reorganisation should follow.

This week’s report said: “The county, borough and district councils are making this [unitary] proposal – not out of a positive ambition for this radical structural change, but instead out of a pragmatic and responsible approach to the Government’s clearly-signalled direction of travel.” It warned too that unitary reorganisation would not in itself solve the county’s financial problems.

“There is currently a very significant imbalance between revenue income and expenditure at NCC, and this will have an impact on sustainability of the new unitaries if the current financial position is inherited by them in 2020-21,” it said.

“It is essential that NCC delivers a balanced revenue position and sustainable services that can be inherited from day one. “

Northamptonshire in July took the rare step of issuing a second section 114 notice to limit spending.

The government in May imposed commissioners to run parts of the council after Mr Caller’s report highlighted serious flaws in its operation.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36537%3Anorthamptonshire-councillors-vote-for-plan-to-split-county-into-unitaries&catid=59&Itemid=27

Two unitary Devon areas – the case against weakens

DCC leader John Hart has gone on record as saying two unitary councils for two different parts of Devon can never happen, since however you split the county there would always be a poorer authority and a richer one.

Owl has challenged this idea citing “Greater Exeter” as a quasi-unitary authority by stealth already.

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/05/18/is-one-devon-unitary-council-being-created-by-stealth/

However, Dorset has just been split in two with two councils with very different profiles: a largely income-rich urban east and a more rural west.

It seems (after the Torbay debacle and continuing austerity cuts) that ALL councils are now poor, so does his argument still hold water – or is it now a leaky bucket?

Would a change result in savings that could go to front-line services? If so, what is the rationale for the status-quo?

Well, of course, it would mean fewer councillors …..!