Ray Manning on Merging Functions and the Unitary Authority

greengage17:17 Thursday 10th April 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Two Cambridgeshire district councils are to share some services in the future. South Cambs and Huntingdonshire Councils have said the partnership is in response to 25% cuts in national grant funding over the past three years. To explain more on that I’m joined in the studio now by Cllr Ray Manning, who is Leader of South Cambridgeshire. Ray, welcome. Thank you.
RAY MANNING: Hello there.
CHRIS MANN: So, what services are you planning to share?

RAY MANNING: Well the first one that we’re hoping to do, this is going to our Cabinet in July, the first one we’re hoping to do is Building Control, which is, you know, when they go out and inspect the buildings, make sure it’s up to standards, things like this. We’re both rural district councils. We have very similar parishes, parish councils, things like that, and we think that would be the first one that we could do.
CHRIS MANN: It’s fair to say you’re both relatively small local councils, aren’t you?
RAY MANNING: Yes we are, but we’re quite big for district councils. There are many district councils that are smaller, and if you put our combined population together you’re looking at about 300,000.
CHRIS MANN: But as you develop more efficiencies, and you improve services, you’re going to get closer together in the future. You see that happening?
RAY MANNING: Yes I would hope so. We’ve already been working very closely together. We’ve managed to get the A14 back on the agenda, and we worked together on that. We’re both putting money into it. And we’re doing the same we hope on the A428. Because there are many of these areas that are common to both of us.
CHRIS MANN: So inevitably, are we talking about a merger down the road?
RAY MANNING: That’s not anything that we’ve discussed. We talked about it today, and said that there is no issue of a unitary, a merger, or anything like that. All we’re talking about at the moment is two councils sharing services. The idea is if you’ve got a small department with one or two people and somebody is off sick, then you’re really struggling. So we’re talking about what the buzzword (for) is resilience, and things like that.
CHRIS MANN: Oh you like your buzzwords. But these councils were set up in a different age, weren’t they, before the computerisation and the change in back room operations. It makes more sense does it not in the future, if you’re talking about making savings, and increasingly that’s important, that councils, perhaps yours, and East Cambs as well, Cambridge City, look to go more together?
RAY MANNING: It makes absolute sense. The one thing that we don’t want to do is to start off with the intention of merging. If you’re not careful, you then end up spending more time discussing how you’re going to do that than you do actually integrating your two services. The whole idea is to save money and to work together closely, and by saving money, still, deliver the same sort of service that the residents expect. Now that’s the reason for combining in the first place.
CHRIS MANN: Of course.
RAY MANNING: So the idea is that by working more and more closely together .. yes ten fifteen years down the road you could find a completely different landscape; but don’t start off trying to combine to save money. Start off trying to save money.
CHRIS MANN: Now we’re talking potentially about people’s jobs of course, and livelihoods.
RAY MANNING: Well yes, but that is not what we started out to do.
CHRIS MANN: But are the jobs going to go?
RAY MANNING: There is absolutely nothing on the agenda about that at all. We’re trying to do just the reverse. By working together and sharing, we’re trying to make sure that we keep delivering the services that we have to.
CHRIS MANN: But a unitary authority in your view would make sense.
RAY MANNING: A unitary authority would make sense. But I remember the last time that a unitary authority was proposed, and there was arguments and turmoil, and nothing actually happened, because people were waiting to see. And I keep saying, the answer for a unitary is to work more closely together, and avoid duplication. If you can actually start doing that in the beginning it makes more sense. If a unitary is an idea in the future, then fine. Cambridge City has been talking about forming a unitary authority with us. I don’t have any political objection to it. I’m just concerned that it’s a distraction when you’re trying to do something at the moment.
CHRIS MANN: Ray I want to ask you just finally about that interview with the Prime Minister (on the exploitation of migrant labour broadcast earlier). because I know you’re a fruit farmer yourself, and you rely on migrant labour. So they’ve got to be looked after.
RAY MANNING: Well yes. Yes. I’ve had some people at work last week, planting trees, digging holes, planting trees. We’re planting greengages actually. And I rely on migrant labour coming in to do my fruit picking in the summer.
CHRIS MANN: And is enough being done to protect them?
RAY MANNING: Well I think so. I hope that we’re (a) good employer. I think that we get on well. They always call me by my Christian name. I know their names.
CHRIS MANN: I’m not thinking of you specifically, but it’s clear that gangmasters need marshalling, don’t they?
RAY MANNING: I don’t like the so-called gangmaster system. I actually go to recruitment agencies, the same way any other businessman would.
CHRIS MANN: Ray Manning, Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council. Thank you so much for joining me.