Friday, 9 March 2012

Breckland Labour Groups views on shared management plans with Great Yarmouth

It seems like only yesterday that Breckland formally began sharing services with South Holland. That was a leap into the dark for this council and as far as I am concerned there has been an insufficient amount of analysis as to whether or not that venture was a success. Can any of us say without any doubt that there has been no affect on the quality and level of services provided by either authority? I don’t believe that we have a clear answer to this question which is principally why I believe we should not be making this decision today. Given the information made available, the Breckland Labour Group does not support this rush to share services with another authority and feels that the risks associated with this move to be of concern, particularly given the limited financial savings available. One assumes, indeed, one would hope that there has been considerable debate amongst the Conservative group regarding this proposal and that members have been privy to more discussion and debate, and therefore more information than we have had. But as a Labour group, we simply do not have the information at hand to make an informed decision which is why we will be opposing this plan. On the 2nd March, I did email senior council officers and ask for information such as; figures related to staff turnover over the past few years, staff absenteeism rates and levels of complaints from the public. These for me would have been indicators of the affect of sharing with South Holland and therefore a good barometer of sorts. This information has not been provided, so I can only assume that this information has not been collated as part of this process as it was not readily at hand to provide to me. We are fully supportive that this council looks to do things differently and that it is prepared to push boundaries but, that boldness can easily become foolhardiness. The creation of “Great Shrekland”, as some employees of Great Yarmouth Council have decided to call it, does not offer the same benefits as when this council joined with South Holland, and comes too soon after this initial sharing of services took place. There is also a more fundamental issue here. I fail to understand the wider vision for this. Logic would suggest that in order to get maximum benefit from sharing services you would join up with those authorities that are geographically closest. Yarmouth is after all as close to the country of Holland, as it is to the district of South Holland. Again, to get maximum benefit from the expertise of the employees, logic would suggest that the authorities would be based in the same geographical location, facing roughly the same issues – there is little that connects Great Yarmouth to the area of Breckland or indeed South Holland. Furthermore, at what point do these councils stop adding to the family? How many should join before it becomes too many? This of course leads one to consider, what would happen if there was a view taken that shared services was no longer the best option for either district? Unsharing services would be even more difficult than sharing them in the first place. Finally, does this latest development not further make this authorities decision to spend tens of thousands of pounds on opposing a unitary council for Norfolk look even more foolish? As the shared services family grows, does this not look even more like a unitary council, just lacking the unitary governance structure.