17:19 Friday 11th July 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: A cost-saving strategic partnership between South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire District Councils has been approved. We talked about it on the programme a couple of weeks ago. It is hoped that by sharing building control, legal and IT services they can save half a million pounds. On Monday Cambridge City Council will consider a report on sharing their legal and IT services. It’s hoped this will save even more for the councils. Well joining me in the studio now is Simon Edwards, who is the Deputy Leader of South Cambs District Council. Hello Simon.
SIMON EDWARDS: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: So just tell us what was approved last night exactly.
SIMON EDWARDS: Well there were four aspects that we looked at, but the main agreement that we reached was to formulate a strategic shared services partnership with Huntingdon District Council. This isn’t an exclusive partnership, but it means that they are a partner of choice for any future shared services, and indeed the three shared services that we’re looking at sharing at the moment.
CHRIS MANN: How difficult has this been to organise? It’s saving a lot of money.
SIMON EDWARDS: It is saving us a lot of money, and I’ve been a councillor for ten years now and I have to say that we’ve looked at shared services pretty much every year of those ten years. Very very difficult to deliver. You have to have a political will to do it. You have to have the officer will to do it. And you have to have the right circumstances. And I think we’ve got all those three things in place now.
CHRIS MANN: Two Conservative controlled councils of course. Does that make a difference with the same parties involved here?
SIMON EDWARDS: It does help in some respects. But that doesn’t prevent us working with Cambridge city for example. We have been talking to Cambridge city ..
CHRIS MANN: That was my next question, because they’re a Labour controlled council, newly taken over by Labour. So you do deal with them, no problem.
SIMON EDWARDS: We’re already talking to them about sharing our waste services. That was agreed last night. We’ve already shared our payroll services with them when they were a LibDem council. So we aren’t proud who we talk to. We’ll talk to any council if it makes sense for us to do so.
CHRIS MANN: So are your staff listening to this with trepidation that their jobs are going to go?
SIMON EDWARDS: No. I hope not anyway. We believe that there are going to be increased opportunities for our staff, because with a bigger service it allows some of our staff to specialise in certain areas, particularly on the legal side. At the moment we’ve got a very small legal team, as do Huntingdon, but it allows us to actually use some of our legal staff to specialise in particular areas, so it will actually improve their job prospects I believe.
CHRIS MANN: And the future, more of this, more of your services are going to be shared at different levels. The inevitable thought, and I did put this to your Leader Ray Manning the other week, is that you’ll end up just being one big council, won’t you?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well the unitary question has been on the table for a long long time. We’ve got varying views in our council. I know that our Leader is quite keen on the principle of unitary councils. I’m the other way round Chris. I don’t support unitary councils. I think they can be too big and unwieldy. What we’re doing at the moment ..
CHRIS MANN: Turkeys voting for Christmas. Is that the idea?
SIMON EDWARDS: Not at all. No. What we’re doing at the moment is providing services that suit our residents best, and that’s what’s the most important thing. There are strategic alliances that we have with Huntingdon, where the synergy between the two councils is compelling, and it makes absolute sense to share. With other authorities such as the County Council or the City Council, that may not be so compelling. But it just depends on the service that we’re looking at.
CHRIS MANN: Simon Edwards, thank you for joining me. Deputy Director of South Cambs District Council.