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South Cambridgeshire District Council to consider spending £1m on revamp

By Gemma Gardner

South Cambridgeshire District Council could spend more than £1million in a bid to create a ‘sustainable future’ for the authority.

The authority faces a challenging future with reducing funding and rising expectations.

South Cambridgeshire District Council to consider spending £1m on revamp
South Cambridgeshire District Council to consider spending £1m on revamp

Consultants Castlerigg were commissioned in July to conduct a review of a number of the authority’s structures.

The results of this first phase of work were presented to the authority’s cabinet on Wednesday (May 1).

The Liberal Democrat administration, which was elected in May last year, say the next four years provide a window of opportunity for the administration to drive modernisation and innovation.

The leader of the council, Cllr Bridget Smith, said the authority was committed to conducting the review properly.

“In any professional organisation there is a cost of change and we are determined to do this properly,” she said. “We are putting our customers at the heart of the review to address the issues that they have talked to us about, ensure we can deliver on their priorities, and free up our talented staff to work more efficiently together to provide a gold standard service.”

The Castlerigg report sets out five ways that the council can make changes from ‘do nothing’ to the preferred option of a flexible operating model.

This preferred option, consultants say, will strengthen the council’s “translation of political ambitions” and “address the deficit in strategic officer leadership”.

Under this option, the authority would have an ‘executive core’ which would provide the council’s strategic leadership – and would be made up of the head of paid service and supporting officers.

Sitting underneath that would be the ‘strategic client’ which would manage services, some of which would outsourced or shared. This option would include the recommissioning of all services.

The report says: “This option provides the opportunity to design the council’s management and supervisory structure, roles, and operating rhythm to support greater empowerment and appropriate accountabilities for officers.

“It would enable the council to be designed as a ‘good partner’ through opportunities to design partnership working at all appropriate levels of the council, creating strategic capacity and freeing up senior officers to dedicated time and roles to partnership working.”

Bridget Smith leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (9591045)
Bridget Smith leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (9591045)

But, should the council’s ruling group agree to press ahead with the preferred option, they could be facing an up front investment of up to £1.34million over three years.

This, the consultants say, would be to address the council’s skills gaps required to successfully implement and manage the delivery of the option.

Redesigning services under this option, however, would also deliver almost £2million of savings.

Opposition leader, Conservative Cllr Peter Topping, is concerned that the options do not represent good value for money for South Cambridgeshire residents. He also raised concerns about the impact of the report, which he said is creating a “climate of blame”.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “They’ve spent nearly £100,000 and they’ve produced something that’s taken a year. It’s creating a climate of blame.

“My take on it is that it’s fair enough to have a go at the previous administration, that’s politics, but I don’t believe that this is an independent report.

“The author of the report didn’t interview me or anyone else, so it can say what it likes, but it’s not something that anyone has attempted to run by me.”

Cllr Topping cited a previous review by the Local Government Association that consulted with both the administration and the opposition.

He added: “In my professional life, I’ve had a lot of experience of dealing with management consultants is that they always try to sell you their particular brand and I think this is no different.

“I’m sure that this particular solution may work in some way but if someone put this report in front of me, I’d be saying thank you, we’ll take it from here.

“The idea that you buy into potentially years’ more work... you’re signing away the independence of the council.

“It is absolutely true that district councils of all politically flavours are feeling the heat in terms of cuts on their funding in the way that county councils have had it up until now. So for any district council to embark on this sort of rate of spending just as the storm hits, is crazy.”

The committee noted the progress of the work.

Read more

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