Hart of the Matter
Leaders of the public sector in Suffolk are celebrating
their latest coup in squeezing £3.35million out of the Government.
Divided across the borough, county and district councils as
well as the police, health providers and so on, it may not amount to very much
each, but it will ease pressure in some important areas, no doubt.
One of the main reasons for Suffolk’s success – apart from
the obvious one that its local authorities are Tory-led and there is an election
coming up – is that the Government is always impressed nowadays with examples
of partnership working.
Part of the now rather submerged Localism agenda which David
Cameron and his sidekick Eric Pickles have been so keen on has been the
lightning strike of understanding whereby they came to see that organisations
do better by working together than by running in their own tramlines oblivious
to anyone else.
The ethos behind collaborative working may be all very well,
but it would have been unlikely to recommend itself to them on that basis
alone, as A Good Thing. But the fact that it naturally results in financial
savings is another matter.
If everyone works together it avoids duplication – which,
with a bit of luck, allows you to get rid of some costly staff, always a
popular move with Government – and generally means it is easier for members of
the public to get a response to their particular needs.
More and more in Suffolk and elsewhere, the big public organisations
are being forced to work together, if only because quite a lot of them now find
themselves in the same room, costly buildings having been got rid of.
With fewer staff required to do fewer functions, as councils
offloaded various of their responsibilities into the private sector, they could
get not just into the same building, but even onto the same floor.
It’s even happening in Haverhill now, with St Edmundsbury borough
and Suffolk county councils sharing space in Lower Downs Slade - but only since
it has been in action have the organisations begun to realise the benefit of it.
Officers don’t even have to pick up the phone to sort out
some minor query with their opposite number – they can just walk over to the
other side of the office and speak direct.
Jolly well done, says the Government, here’s another
£3.35million to make your lives just that little bit easier. Thanks, say the SPSL
(Suffolk Public Sector Leaders), and we’ll do more of the same because we’ve
discovered there’s a great opportunity to increase our collaborative working –
just in case you’ve got any more millions knocking about looking for a good
The leaders issued their statements about what a great
success it was and how they already have plenty of good examples of
collaborative working up and running in their areas.
St Edmundsbury’s leader John Griffiths and his Forest Heath
oppo James Waters, who seem to speak jointly nowadays like Tweedledum and
Tweededee, listed such successful examples as Mildenhall Hub and the council
and health teams sharing West Suffolk House in Bury.
It was disappointing that neither he nor the leader of
Suffolk County Council mentioned how the way had been pioneered in Haverhill,
to such a degree that it became one of the Government’s 12 national pilots on
It would have been nice if one or other of them had thought
fit to say something along the lines of: We have, in our county/borough, one of
the star national pioneers in this sort of working from which so much has been
learnt here and is being learnt now up and down the country – ONE Haverhill.
But such a statement would have been unacceptable, giving
undue prominence to Haverhill and seeming to imply that this generally
overlooked corner of their borough/county was actually somehow ahead of the
ONE Haverhill, labouring under its self-imposed disadvantage
of meeting in private, could do with such testimonials to raise its profile in
the local community and get people to believe in it.
We had another prime example of the problem this week at the
town council meeting, where members of the public are clearly unhappy that the
council should be contributing any money to ONE Haverhill.
ONE Haverhill is leading the charge in preparing the town
centre masterplan, for which £30,000 is apparently needed for consultation work
– although Heaven knows what more there is to be learned about the matter by consultation
than has already been gleaned and piled up in the borough council’s data banks
over the past 20 years’ endless series of surveys and consultation.
Nevertheless, we are told this work has to be done in order
to make the final document in any way legally binding, so I suppose we have to
bite the bullet.
ONE Haverhill has no money of its own and can only allocate
money made available by its partners, so it seems reasonable enough for the
town council, as a major partner, to stump up.
The issue is complicated by the similarity of the amount to
that which the borough took away this year, the first of four years of such
trousering, money which the Government had made available to town and parish
councils to cover the shortfall brought about by a change in the way council tax
To cover the gap, Haverhill Town Council put up its precept
in council tax, and now appears to be giving that money back to a process the
borough council is responsible for.
This is, of course, a typical piece of sleight of hand by St
Edmundsbury, who have now not only got out of handing over the money, but also
of paying for part of the masterplan process. It’s quite clever, really.
Sadly, if you get hung up on this sort of thing within local
government, you will have a short and apoplectic political life. It goes on all
If we want the job done, the money has to come from
somewhere, so it’s better to just get on with it. Wherever it comes from will
ultimately have been council taxpayers’ pockets – exactly whose is academic.