Archive for August 2, 2010

To share or not to share

August 2, 2010

Local authorities are trying very hard to find ways to save money and one of the wheezes many are currently investigating is sharing services; or in other words merging departments with other local councils.

But here is the question: What do council’s lose or gain if they share services?

The gain is obvious: and is loosely described as economies of scale which lead to a more efficient service. As an example, if you have five accountants in one authority and five in another it might be that the work can be done by 9 accountants and cover the work for both.

You might also be able to put all the accountants in one office and save the costs of renting two. Finally, you might be able to develop new charging techniques which enable the accountants to ensure they are acting in the most efficient ways.

The problems are more philosophical and address the relationship between the authority and the electorate.

Once a service is shared it loses a piece of it’s democratic accountability. Councillors no longer have full control over the service. This is fine if shared between two authorities (they still have half control) but what about 3 or four authorities? This matters as local government is meant to reflect the needs and wants of the public.

Another question is how big is too big? Unwieldy bureaucracy is a term that is thrown around a lot but we seem to be at a stage where councils are too small and the Government is too big.

Sharing services is one way to avoid making cuts that are too painful but in doing so we run the risk of losing accountability and local individualism.

I don’t know the answer right now but it seems that we’re about to jump into more shared services without fully thinking through the consequences.