The recent study sponsored by Surrey Borough councils on unitary authorities prompted by the proposal to have one Surrey Unitary Authority, was supported by KPMG.
KPMG identified that Guildford and Waverley Boroughs could be natural partners, given the geography, infrastructure links and similar sizes. Despite the councils having made efficiencies and cut costs in recent years, both face extremely difficult financial challenges.
The political leaderships of the two councils, supported by senior officers, held initial discussions in an informal working group about how the two councils can collaborate in the future.
At its special meeting on the morning of 6 July 2021, the Guildford Borough Executive considered the main options, presented by the working group, which are:
Both councils have now agreed that Option E. should be enacted. This will ultimately implement a shared senior management team, with a view to driving further and deeper collaboration.
The first step will be to appoint a single Chief Executive, who will oversee the creation of the new team. The councils will now proceed with the recruitment process to appoint a Joint Chief Executive.
While the councils will share a single senior officer team which is responsible for the operational delivery of services, they will remain entirely separate entities, retaining their own constitutions, elected members and democratic processes.
Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Joss Bigmore, said:
"Last night's decisions mark a positive step forward for us in future-proofing and protecting our local services for our residents and businesses in Guildford and Waverley. Thank you to all councillors at both councils for reaching this milestone. Despite being on track to achieve our target of £8million savings though our Future Guildford Transformation Programme we need to find £6millon - 10% of our spending - over the next four years in Guildford alone and recent changes by the government restrict our abilities to act in the commercial world to offset a substantial reduction in government funding. There are tangible benefits to closer collaboration from cost saving to resilience and by beginning with a shared senior management team and one Chief Executive we can ensure a solid strategic officer base from the outset. However, we must be clear, we will still need to make difficult decisions in both councils in order to continue to make savings. For us at Guildford these have been identified in our Savings Strategy approved at a recent meeting of our Executive and include closer working with Waverley and looking at our discretionary services and our own assets which we asked our residents for feedback on earlier in the year.
See GBC annoucement.
From the limited information available the Society makes the following initial observations:
1/ Chief Executive Appointment. - The management team will be responsible for services supporting approx. 260,000 local residents which is a considerable increase in scale, the Chief Executive will be responsible for managing considerable organisational change and integration of ‘systems’. This will be conducted with the added uncertainty of possible pressure for further council integration the Ministry of Housing Communities and local Government (MHCLG) is known to favour unitary authorities of circa 400,000 residents.
Attracting an experienced and able person to this post will be a challenge.
2/ Planning - The supporting documents highlight both Waverly and Guildford in relation to comparator councils appear to spend less on Planning and Development Services. This supports the experience of delays in the planning system being experienced locally.
3/ Strategic Risk Analysis – It is surprising that the Strategic Risk Analysis doesn’t have a clear risk that services don’t improve for residents. There is widespread cynicism related to politics both nationally and locally. Any change of this magnitude must have a Strategic Risk related to not making this worse.
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