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Three councils unveil business case for 'tri-partnership' with single workforce

Three councils in Dorset are to consider creating a ‘tri-partnership’ – with a single workforce serving all three local authorities – in a bid to save £6m by 2020.

In a joint statement North Dorset District Council (NDDC), West Dorset District Council (WDDC) and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council (W&PBC) insisted that each authority would remain independent and equal under the plan.

“This means each would have its own councillors, who would continue to make local decisions about services,” they said. “Each council would continue to set its own budget, council tax and maintain its separate identity and sovereignty.”

The three councils serve more than 235,000 people and cover more than half the county of Dorset.

The business case for the plan – which can be accessed here – envisages that, in addition to a single workforce, office accommodation and ICT systems would be streamlined and shared.

Benefits identified by the business plan, apart from the savings, include:

  • A critical mass and knowledge base necessary to meet the key ambitions of the councils’ communities;
  • Greater financial independence whilst making a difference to the growth of their local economies;
  • A strong strategic voice and delivery arm to enhance the effectiveness of the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership;
  • Improved engagement in the strategic planning for infrastructure and services in the councils’ areas, as well as across the county and the south west;
  • A shared back office with ‘hubs’ and access to local services;
  • Local democratic engagement strengthened with communities across the partnership “by enabling more flexible arrangements for democratic engagement, whilst maintaining the sovereign identity of each council”;
  • Resilience and security in the provision of services to customers;
  • Pursuit of creative opportunities to generate income and capital for services that would not otherwise be available;
  • A structure that could be replicated in other councils nationally; and
  • A return on investment in five years of 7.45:1.

NDDC Leader Deborah Croney, WDDC Leader Robert Gould and Mike Byatt, W&PBC Briefholder for Corporate Affairs and Continuous Improvement, said: “Radical decisions are being considered because all three councils are ambitious to provide better value-for-money services and yet are facing very difficult financial situations.

“Together the councils believe they could provide more flexible services at a reduced cost to the tax payer. These plans will be considered very carefully by each council before any decisions are taken.”

The councils said that government funding to all three authorities had been reduced by more than 50% in the five years up to 2015/2016, and that reductions were likely to continue even with a change in Government. WDDC and W&PBC already operate a shared services partnership, which is reported to have saved £3m a year since its business case was drawn up.

The three councils, which hope to tap government funding to help set up the tri-partnership, will put forward the plan to councillors this autumn. They will then vote on whether to commit to the partnership.

If approved, the first stage of the proposal will see all three authorities share a chief executive and senior management team from February and March 2015 respectively.

“[This] which will bring together a range of skills and experience across change management, service development, finance and legal/governance,” the business case said, adding that this would will enable a distribution of key responsibilities between a new management team to meet the councils’ aims.

The first stage would also see a review of physical assets across the three partners “with the intention of rationalising those assets as much as possible”.

A second stage would involve the redesign and combining of services with all staff employed by one council, “probably W&PBC”.