The concept of shared services has been promoted by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, as the way for local authorities to cut costs without cutting services.
By uniting with neighbouring authorities, sharing and centralising common services – especially ones in which there is typically little differentiation between councils – services can be run more cost-effectively without affecting levels of service.
That, at least, is the theory. The reality can be very different.
Shared services requires a level of agreement and coordination between different councils of sometimes changing political hues.
Furthermore, upfront costs can be high, the transition can take up to two years, and it can take five years or more before the savings start to outweigh the costs.
So why did Hambleton District Council abruptly decide to terminate its shared services arrangement with neighbouring Richmondshire District Council earlier this month, just three years into the agreement?
The answer, according to local sources, is down to a personality clash between the leaders of both councils: Hambleton Conservative Councillor Neville Huxtable, and Richmondshire Independent Councillor John Blackie – a former Conservative who left the party in acrimony in 2008.
The clash between the two men bubbled to the surface when Peter Simpson, the chief executive shared by both councils, was escorted from his office at Hambleton District Council and put on indefinite gardening leave. Councillor Huxtable had cited "serious management issues" as justification.
Simpson, who had been the driving force behind the arrangement, has since been given an alternative role on a one-year contract by Hambleton District Council at half his former £125,000 annual salary, before taking early retirement in April 2013.
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