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Partnerships could help save local authority cash
6:00pm Thursday 26th September 2013 in Opinion
CUMBRIA County Council leader Stewart Young says the authority, which faces making painful cuts of £80m to meet funding targets, ‘will never take risks’ with the services vulnerable people depend upon.
Yet this vow is accompanied by a warning that up to 700 jobs may have to be axed to achieve the saving, which makes it difficult to understand how the current service provision can be maintained when it is already under enormous pressure.
Something surely has to give.
Coun Stewart admits more efficiency savings are needed to help bridge the funding gap and he promises the council will ‘look closely’ at doing things differently, which will involve reviewing management structures and costs.
However, the approach may only lead to sufficient savings if the approach to restructuring is radical enough.
Because the six district councils in Cumbria are also facing their own budgetary challenges, perhaps it is time to reawaken the debate about how local government is delivered in the county.
In the past, there have been calls for a unitary authority to provide all the services Cumbria needs.
But this was really never going to be seriously advanced.
For a start, the idea runs counter to the localism agenda, which is meant to encourage decentral-isation.
There are also political considerations, with the districts largely divided into Lib Dem, Tory and Labour heartlands - all three uneasy bedfellows.
The large and diverse area that makes up Cumbria would seem to render it unsuitable for just one giant authority; but that doesn’t mean pooling resources and sharing expertise is out of the question.
This has already been achieved in ‘partnership’ deals between various county authorities - but it could, perhaps, be done more effectively over a greater number of services.
There could, for example, be single county departments dealing with human resources, payroll, marketing, IT and general administrative tasks.
What is important as the cuts bite deeper is that nothing is ruled out - except, of course, reductions in service standards.
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