Public services in Buckinghamshire are a big business and as with any business we want to deliver quality services as efficiently and effectively as possible. The local government structure in Buckinghamshire hasn’t changed in almost 50 years – yet the budgets and the world we operate in has moved on dramatically. How many businesses with a decline in revenue wouldn’t have re-organised to maximise efficiency by now?
We have the once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way services are delivered to help sustain and further invest in core services such as roads and social care whilst saving millions of pounds for the local taxpayer every year.
In 2014 Buckinghamshire Business First and the business community crowd-funded an independent report which concluded that replacing five councils with one unitary authority could lead to up to £20m in efficiency savings each year, while protecting and enhancing front-line service delivery.
Following the Government’s announcement in March 2018, Michael Garvey, Chairman of Buckinghamshire Business First and Managing Director of property consultants Chandler Garvey, said: “A new single unitary is the Government’s choice and having reviewed all the arguments I am persuaded that this is the right choice. Two unitary councils are unnecessarily costly, and a fragmented Buckinghamshire will have less strategic importance and in the long run this will be damaging for businesses in the county. The suggestion that a single council will be remote from residents and businesses is simply scaremongering and inaccurate and the single unitary proposal addresses this head on with practical solutions.”
Buckinghamshire would be nothing without its businesses.
Ultimately, it is the private sector which funds all the services in the county and it is crucial that the public sector uses that hard-earned money effectively. It is equally crucial that when changes are proposed to change the way services operate, the business community has a strong input into those plans.
Business is in my DNA. I worked in the private sector for 30 years, across a range of businesses from BT to Deloitte.
For many years I oversaw company mergers and acquisitions across the world. It’s a common business practice.
However, the last time local government in Buckinghamshire changed was in 1974, when the current confusing, inefficient and bureaucratic system of one county and four district councils was established.
No successful business would go nearly 50 years without restructuring – especially in the current climate of rising costs and falling income. Yet that is what has happened here.
That’s why the Government is minded to streamline the way council services are delivered, by abolishing all five councils and replacing them with one, new county-wide unitary authority responsible for all council services.
That means there would be only one senior management team, one HR team and one IT team across the county.
One council would enjoy far greater economies of scale, and the ability to negotiate better deals with its suppliers. At least £18m each and every year would be saved through being more efficient in the back office, meaning we can protect and improve the services we provide for our customers.
One council representing 500,000 people would:
- be a much stronger voice to Government on the needs of the county.
- reduce confusion over who does what, which often causes unwelcome red tape for businesses over issues such as contracts, planning and permits.
- join-up services which are currently run by different organisations.
- keep intact crucial services like education, as well as enabling us to work on an equal basis with the Bucks college, both our universities and the Bucks NHS
- Have a single team dealing with planning applications including highways issues
You may have heard about alternative proposals for splitting Buckinghamshire into north and south unitary councils. These may sound superficially attractive but in reality they just don’t stack up.
- The Government has already said these are unlikely to be sustainable as they just don’t have the critical mass required to be financially resilient.
- Two councils don’t make any business sense. Planning applications that cross these small authority boundaries would end up with two planning authorities, potentially with different attitudes to business and development.
- It would mean splitting the most complex and expensive services currently run on a county-footprint, such as social care, education and transport.
- They would need two sets of expensive senior management teams and other overheads as well as drastically reducing economies of scale and contract efficiencies.
We have the once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way services are delivered to help sustain and further invest in services such as roads and social care. But if businesses don’t speak up for change now, there’s a danger the current system will continue, and business and residents will miss out on at least an extra £18m each and every year. Please do give your views to the Secretary of State James Brokenshire (firstname.lastname@example.org) by May 25.
Video message to businesses from leader Martin Tett
Alex Pratt from Serious Readers