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Legal services in line as councils look to extend shared working

Legal services are set to be included in the first phase of an extended shared working programme being introduced by four local authorities in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.

The four authorities – Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire District Councils and Cheltenham Borough Council – rejected other options including the establishment of a unitary authority.

The partner councils already have shared arrangements for human resources, finance and payroll. They are also working towards a common information and communications technology structure.

In addition to legal services, the first phase of the extended ‘2020 Vision’ programme is expected to cover:

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  • Information Technology;
  • Public Protection;
  • Building Control;
  • Property;
  • Customer Services;
  • Revenues and Benefits.

The four authorities said not all councils would necessarily be involved in each of these projects as some already have different arrangements.

Cheltenham merged its legal with that at Tewkesbury Borough Council in 2009 to create the One Legal shared service, which this year expanded to include Gloucester City Council.

The 2020 Vision programme is now expected to deliver overall combined savings of £39m between now and 2024, the four local authorities said in a statement.

They added: “Although there will be alterations to the way in which staff operate, the programme is being designed so residents will not see any changes to their council and the services it runs.

“Each council maintains its independence and will keep its own separate identity. Democratically elected members should not see any changes to their roles in relation to providing local services and will continue to set their own policies, strategies, service standards and decision making processes.”

The partner councils will work towards setting up a joint committee in spring 2016 to make the changes. They will also consider further areas for sharing over the next 12-18 months prior to deciding whether to establish a jointly owned local authority company to take over the running of the programme in 2016.

Cotswold District Council Leader, Cllr Lynden Stowe, said: “We already have good links with the 2020 partner councils through a range of joint working initiatives, which have proven to be very successful. We feel that the time is now right to strengthen these ties as the best way to make savings and maintain a full range of services to customers.

“We have looked at other ways to reduce running costs, including cutting services, forming a unitary authority and buying services from other providers. We have discounted all of those options because we think the 2020 Vision model is the best solution as it will still allow us the independence to make our own decisions on the priorities relevant to the Cotswold District.”

Cllr Patrick Molyneux, Leader of Forest of Dean District Council, said: “It makes a lot of sense for us to continue to build on something which is already working as we look to make savings over the coming years. The 2020 Vision Programme will by the fifth year be delivering annual savings of £1.3m to our council alone.”

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