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£1m cost-cut aim with hope of saving museums

Merging services with other councils will prevent the closure of museums and libraries in the future – that is the hope of Canterbury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael.

Councillors agreed on Thursday to join forces with Dover and Thanet district councils in delivering housing services, IT, face-to-face contact centre and customer services, revenues and benefits, residual housing and building control.

It is estimated that by 2013 this will save Canterbury council taxpayers up to £1 million a year. This money would then be pumped back into the council, to improve things such as housing stock, which is made up of about 6,000 homes. Due to the pioneering nature of sharing services with neighbouring councils an exact model of how things will work is yet to be decided.

Colin Carmichael, chief executive, Canterbury City Council
Colin Carmichael, chief executive, Canterbury City Council

It has, however, been agreed that housing will be managed by a newly-formed company, which will act on instructions from each individual council. By cutting out repetition of roles within the district councils, and each of them following the same template for operating services, it is hoped that as well as saving money, service quality will be improved.

Although job losses are inevitable, numbers are yet to be revealed until a working model is created. It is not believed people will see any direct change to services and people will still be able to access help at the city council offices if needed.

The move has been two years in the planning with human resources already being merged under one roof in Dover, and savings up to £60,000 being made. Mr Carmichael said:

“It has taken a long time to get to this stage, and it is now or never. Although many would see this as a massive risk as we don’t know 100 per cent how this is going to pan out, we have to think about the future.

If our predictions are correct then our government grant will be cut significantly in the next few years and we need to begin making plans for how we are going to deal with this. Shepway council hasn’t ruled out joining the initiative in the future and sharing waste management, housing and other such services, but I think at the moment they want to know all the intricate details before fully committing.

All the evidence we have collected so far shows that this will work, but we are going to have to adapt as we go and be flexible. This is not the big solution to our financial problems, but it is abig part of it.

The big differences will be in the back-room areas and I’m 99.9% sure that frontline services will be maintained as they are. For some time now we have been holding vacancies and we will turn to voluntary redundancies and early retirements before making compulsory cuts. We will of course try to find new posts for people wherever possible.

The power we have as a council won’t be watered down as we will still commission the work that is carried out and control budgets. We have reached a common ground agreement with the other participating councils about how we want this to work, but things are going to be trial and error.”

Service sharing will take place in three waves. The first wave will include housing landlord services and then IT, face-to face contact centre and customer services, revenues and benefits, residual housing and building control. These two areas are due to be signed off in the autumn and completed in April 2011. Canterbury council cannot begin to share waste services until its contract with Serco runs out in 2013. When the next budget is put forward in February 2011, more service-sharing will be discussed – however, the services to be included are yet to be decided.

Herne Bay Gazette, March 4th 2010

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