08 December 2015

Saving taxpayers millions by joining up key public services and exploring a combined authority model for local councils in Northamptonshire form a major part of Northamptonshire County Council’s budget proposals published today.

Proposals include driving forward joint working with health services and also start to outline how savings, along with improved wellbeing outcomes, will be able to be made through the new First for Wellbeing Community Interest Company providing wellbeing services previously provided by separate organisations.

And the leader of the council Cllr Jim Harker has said such closer working should also now extend to the county’s seven district and borough councils to help make services more efficient and consistent across the county.

Devolution agenda

As part of its devolution agenda the government is now calling on areas to form combined authorities in order to gain devolved powers in areas such as transport, economic development, and regeneration and create more formal closer working in all areas of council activity.

Leader of the council Cllr Jim Harker has said he believes Northamptonshire should explore the benefits of such a model and says the savings which could be realised through efficiencies could help prevent even deeper cuts in all councils’ services in the future.

Cllr Harker said: “There is huge strength in local democracy, and significant skills within each of the councils, but can we continue to operate fully independent organisations with our own separate ways of doing things?

“We currently have different waste contracts across the county with householders having completely different waste and recycling collection schemes depending where they live. We are already working on how we can make this more efficient and effective but we can go further. There are opportunities being missed because of the organisational boundaries which separate us.

“It is easy to see just how much efficiency could be realised by bringing together such work. One waste collection contract instead of five separate ones would in itself save millions.

“I will now be speaking to the leaders of the districts and boroughs about how we might formalise our working relationships between all of our councils to deliver services in a far more integrated manner through looking at the combined authority model which could help us all deliver the savings we need to and in a way which would create more consistent services to the public.”

Unlocking economic growth

This year has also seen the council working with neighbouring councils Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire in England’s Economic Heartland strategic alliance aiming to develop a transport strategy to unlock economic growth in the wider area. Cllr Harker sees closer working with the districts and boroughs as an equally important element of this and the work of developing a Next Generation Council.

He said: “All of these agendas are connected. Through our Next Generation model we outline how we as the county council will become a much smaller organisation commissioning new enterprises and public service partnerships to deliver outcomes for us. Through the Economic Heartland alliance we are working with our partners outside the county boundaries to unlock growth. Through looking at a combined authority model we are looking at how such benefits could be translated closer to home across our local council partners.

“We have already achieved great success through our shared back office services with Cambridgeshire County Council with LGSS. This is still growing and as it continues to generate more and more of its own revenue the cost to us of our back office functions continues to decline. We want to use and build on this experience.”

The budget includes proposals to save £4.5m through starting to work towards a combined authority with districts and boroughs.