Councils deny plans to merge

07:21 Monday 27th July 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: A joint team of planners shared between Fenland District Council and Peterborough City Council could save nearly £800,000 over the next three years. The shared service will be in place by January next year, after a consultation with affected staff. Simon Machin joins me. He’s Corporate Director of Growth and Regeneration at Peterborough City Council. Morning Simon.
SIMON MACHIN: Morning Chris. ..
CHRIS MANN: Now you’ve got together with Fenland. Tell us all about it.
SIMON MACHIN: That’s right. We’ve been working with Fenland District Council for probably about four years now. We help them put in place their new Local Plan. And increasingly the two councils have realised that there’s greater efficiencies to be made by working together. Both councils have got a very ambitious growth agenda, and a planning service is critical to delivering that.
CHRIS MANN: So you’ve just woken up to the fact that if you work together you could save some money.

SIMON MACHIN: No. We’ve not just woken up to it at all. As I said we’ve been working together for about four years. Peterborough provides planning services to several other councils as well, so earning income in this way helps to offset cuts to services like those that are relevant to vulnerable people.
CHRIS MANN: So let’s bring in the man from Fenland, it’s Will Sutton. Hello.
WILL SUTTON: Hello. Morning. ..
CHRIS MANN: Now Will you’re the District Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for Planning, and you’re the Deputy Leader of course of the Council.
WILL SUTTON: Yes. That’s correct.
CHRIS MANN: And re-elected recently and so on. So you’re working together with Peterborough. Again I ask the question, have you guys just woken up to this? Because it sounds like. £800,000, a lot of money you’re saving.
WILL SUTTON: Well it is a lot of money. We haven’t just woken up to it. We’ve had the PAS review with our planning department in early 2014. We’re working through to improve the department on there. And for me as portfolio holder for planning it’s more than just about the savings. Obviously the savings is a big issue for the Council in general, but for me it’s service improvement. I want to see a planning department that has got a gold star beside it, and I see the joining up with Peterborough as a way of making that happen.
CHRIS MANN: Why don’t you go whole hog and join Peterborough? Why not have one council? Save even more money.
WILL SUTTON: I don’t think the electorate of either authority would stand that.
CHRIS MANN: Are you sure?
WILL SUTTON: Yes I’m sure. Yes. I certainly wouldn ‘t go with that. But shared services, as Simon already said, we had a big input from Peterborough with the Local Plan.
CHRIS MANN: So is Peterborough taking over Fenland? Is that what it is?
WILL SUTTON: No no. No no no. Absolutely not. No. We wouldn’t be where we are now if there was any suggestion of that. No, we’re going to remain Fenland District Council and Peterborough City Council will remain as they are.
WILL SUTTON: The planning committees will stay the same.
CHRIS MANN: What other services could this work for?
WILL SUTTON: I think we’ve got to wake up to the fact that each and every council has its competitors on its borders, and we’re surrounded by various councils, and I see them all as competitors. If we can join up services with Peterborough and become a partner, then that’s going to be better for our growth. Rather than competing against Peterborough we work with them. It’s got to be better for both councils.
CHRIS MANN: There’ll be some people listening to this who work for you at the Council and thinking oh, is this my job that’s on the line here. What’s the situation in terms of redundancies, job-losses going forward?
WILL SUTTON: Minimal job losses. It’s not in my remit to discuss people’s employment.
CHRIS MANN: What do you mean minimal job-losses? How many?
WILL SUTTON: I don’t know exactly how many, but it’s minimal. We have lots of temporary jobs in place at the minute in the planning department, agency workers.
CHRIS MANN: But with respect isn’t that important? Shouldn’t you know how many and be able to tell us how many jobs that is?
WILL SUTTON: No, because that’s an operational thing with officers.
CHRIS MANN: Hang on a sec. We’re talking about cutbacks, and there’s people listening to this who work for the Council, haven’t you discussed it with them beforehand, and the unions if they’re involved?
WILL SUTTON: Of course. At an operational level that’s stuff ..
CHRIS MANN: And it shouldn’t be a matter of public record how many jobs are going?
WILL SUTTON: That’s not a Member’s role. No. That’s the clear cut between what a Member’s role is and an officer’s role is. An officer’s role is ..
CHRIS MANN: We’re the public. Aren’t we entitled to know?
CHRIS MANN: We’re the public. Aren’t we entitled to know?
WILL SUTTON: Well that will all come forward in the Government’s arrangements, which is going to come back to us in September. There’s going to be a shared planning manager. That’s public knowledge. But further than that, I can’t comment on just how many jobs there will be.
CHRIS MANN: OK. And Simon at Peterborough, would you like to take over Fenland? Do you think this could ..?
SIMON MACHIN: No it’s not about taking over at all. I think retention of sovereignty for each council is really important, particularly on a subject like planning, so both councils will retain their planning committees.
CHRIS MANN: But of course the City Council’s changed its structure over the years, so this will just be another development to work with the times, won’t it?
SIMON MACHIN: Well that’s what we’re doing. We shared services with a number of different councils around the area. Just on the staffing issue, I think as councillor Sutton said, we’ve got a number of consultancy staff particularly in Fenland at the moment. We’ve got vacant posts on both sides. So if there ever was a time to bring this together it’s now, because the impact on staff is very very minimal.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Thank you for clearing that up. Appreciate it. Simon Machin there, Corporate Director of Growth and Regeneration at Peterborough City Council. We also heard Will Sutton, the Deputy Leader of Fenland District Council. Thank you both gentlemen.