Richmond Council to Merge Operations with Wandsworth

The seat of El Brute power

The seat of El Brute power

The dream of an independent Twickenham took another blow this week when Richmond and Wandsworth Councils announced plans to create a ‘shared staffing arrangement’ across the two boroughs. The expectation is that the new model will deliver savings of £10m per annum in the two local authorities once it goes live in March 2017.

Fans of El Brute can take some reassurance that the each council will retain its separate status with its own elected officials. So, if you were expecting some kind of super-authority with fewer councillors you’ll be disappointed. Ah well, another time maybe. The arrangement will initially deliver savings in management costs but cost reductions in service commissioning and provision are expected to follow.

At the top of the tree the two councils will be managed by a single Chief Executive and single Deputy Chief Exec. These are expected to be Paul Martin, currently Chief Executive at Wandsworth (Richmond’s Gillian Norton will retire in 2016) with Mark Maidment as his Deputy (currently El Brute’s Director of Finance and Corporate Services). Well, at least the head honcho issue has been resolved nice and early.

And as for Kingston Council with which Richmond had been flirting for some time in search of new ways to jointly commission and provide services, El Brute Leader Lord True, aka the Blue Baron, said, “We could not agree on a single, joint management approach which could work effectively for both authorities”. Bam! So, it looks like a case of, “Sod you, you can have the bloody Gloriana and be done with it”.

With councils across the country needing to make big savings, it makes sense for them to look for new ways to cut costs. What this means for the residents and businesses of Richmond, Wandsworth and, of course, Twickenham who use their services remains to be seen. Indeed, what this means for those currently employed by the two councils remains to be seen too. The intention is that each council will retain its own identity and be able to focus on its own priorities. How this new model actually works in practice with a shared infrastructure supporting two boroughs is likely to be the biggest challenge of the new approach. What does it all mean? Will it succeed? Only you know the answers to those questions… and our dear leaders, of course.

LINK:
* Richmond Council Press Release

19 Comments

Filed under Council, Local Issues & News

19 responses to “Richmond Council to Merge Operations with Wandsworth

  1. upend

    I’ve been thinking about this since I saw it. Understand that it would be for joint services – IT, admin services and so on. But surely absolutely anything would limit any new council in the future?

    What if a new council wanted say to outsource or insource services for better quality – surely this would limit any changes and any promises of change that a Lib Dem/Labour/Green/Independent council could make?

    • boanerges

      This is a perfectly valid question, as are all others posed on this link. However, answers are not going to be obtained here! If people genuinely want to know the answers, the person to ask is the CEO (pro tem) Gillian Norton. And please report back with the replies

  2. Sally

    Ah, while I can see the idea of lower council tax appeals, a worrying dimension is what happens to council services. Wandsworth’s services for the disabled and the elderly are terrible, and that’s before the next wave of cuts have happened. The spin is that its possible to cut and cut, merge and merge and end up-a miracle!-with much better services covering a vast area, run by about three people and costing sixpence.

  3. Ed Randall

    Double pay for the winning fat-cat chief Exec, and a golden goodbye to the loser. Trebles all round!

  4. George

    It’s possible to run two boroughs centrally as long as there are very clear boundaries to ensure one does not subsidise the other & that individual priorities are not lost . However the more separate they try to keep things to ensure accountability to the respective groups of Council tax payers then the lower the economies of scale are likely to be. There is a risk that ongoing financial pressure means that there’ll be a growing temptation to go for the one size fits all approach. It’s all about the checks, balances and governance of the thing and whether you trust a local authority to get these right.

    I look forward to reading the Audit Commission’s report into this in about 5 years time.

  5. A merger with France would require a referendum, methinks. Why not this one ? If it’s just ‘shared staff’ there could be considerable problems with conflicts of interest.

  6. Any merger with any Council of whatever political complexion must be put to a referendum. Do Richmond citizens wish to be dominated by an inner city ultra Conservative Council? Lord True et al must get it into their heads that they do not have the right to lead us down this path without majority consent.
    Do we really have to take to the barricades again to make them understand this decision is not in their remit?

  7. That’s precisely my question, will they blend/average the Wandsworth and Richmond council tax levels? In Richmond we pay the 2nd highest council tax rate in greater London (Kingston is the highest) and Wandsworth’s is the lowest rate.

  8. Looks like we will be a colony of Wandsworth.

    Also be aware that Wandsworth’s low rates are a combination of a stich up on funding arrangements under the Thatcher and the appalling poor level of services provided by the council eg farming out many of their school age students to this and other neighbouring boroughs.

    This is a bad, bad move.

  9. Andree Frieze

    I can’t say I’m happy about it either. I could see the rationale behind Kingston and Richmond linking up further, but really not the Wandsworth connection. But maybe that’s because I live in Ham and feel so much farther away from Wandsworth. I wonder what residents in Barnes and East Sheen think about it?

  10. Statement from Cllr Stephen Knight AM, Lib Dem Leader of the Opposition on Richmond Council:

    “Today’s shock announcement of a deal being stitched-up between two Tory politicians to merge Richmond and Wandsworth councils raises very fundamental issues of democracy and accountability. This merger will clearly limit the future independence of both councils to respond to the democratic will of their own electorates and should not proceed without the agreement of the residents of both boroughs in a referendum.

    “All those who believe in genuine local democracy should be worried about this extreme and irreversible move being pushed through by politicians without the agreement of the electorate. Unlike previous talk of merger between Richmond and Kingston councils, there appears to be little synergy between Richmond and Wandsworth. The two councils are very different organisations, one much larger serving an inner London borough, the other smaller serving an outer London suburb with different pressures and issues.

    • boanerges

      Cllr Knight’s statement is a somewhat hysterical outburst. The Council Press Release states “Wandsworth and Richmond councils would continue to be separate sovereign bodies with their own elected Councillors, Cabinets and Leaders, maintaining their distinct identities and retaining the ability to develop policies and priorities that matter to their local residents.” The proposal will be discussed in Council in due course

  11. Katherine

    so will we get Wandsworth-style low council tax…? Doubt it!

    • michelangelo

      Mr Squire, do you think that Cllr Knight is unaware of the fact that at least 95% of all English Councils are sharing services with other Councils? Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea are already working very well together, improving services as well as saving residents money.

    • Sally

      Which services have improved in the merger you cite? (Hammersmith with Kensington.) Wandsworth’s services for the elderly and disabled are over stretched. To cope they have raised their selection criteria very high indeed. In a merger, what is most likely to happen-the (cheaper) restricted service criteria are used or those of the more generous Borough? A small point-but for many people it would make the difference between help and no help. The elderly person next door to me, for example, has assistance under Richmond but wouldn’t make the grade under Wandsworth. Some reassurance would be good.