Hartlepool looks to collaborate with Darlington

PROPOSALS for Hartlepool and Darlington councils to work more closely together in a bid to save millions of pounds have moved a step closer.

Councillors sitting on Hartlepool Borough Council have backed proposals for a detailed business case to be drawn up to see exactly what benefits there would be.

Early indications from an initial feasibility study showed the potential savings could be between £5.4m and £8.4m.

That looked at options such as sharing services across children’s and adult social care, education services and other areas.

The business case will now look into proposals in much more detail.

If the two councils went ahead they would retain their own identity and sovereignty,

The collaboration is also not limited to Hartlepool and Darlington, as other authorities in Teesside could also be involved.

It comes as Hartlepool council looks to make £15m of savings and Darlington £7.8m due to national budget cuts.

Nicola Bailey, the council’s acting chief executive, said this was about the two authorities working closer together to make savings when it comes to procuring contracts, commissioning services, reducing overhead and management costs.

Mrs Bailey said: “It is about slimming down where we can and sharing management costs where we can.

“It is about how we both work and can we do that differently?

“Commissioning services is a great example.”

Mrs Bailey added that this would help preserve frontline services.

She added that it would be done in “bite size” chunks rather than all in one go.

Councillors in Darlington had already given their backing at a meeting last week.

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said: “No options can be taken off the table at the moment.

“This is only an option and we have the right to say no if we don’t like the details.”

Labour group leader, councillor Chris Simmons, said: “We are going through some very difficult times.

“New and innovative ways of dealing with services is needed.”

Labour councillor Ged Hall raised concerns about the impact on the most vulnerable while fellow Labour member Robbie Payne said it could lead to more bureaucracy.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said that if the council does not look at options such as this then the impact will be “10 times as bad”.

The cost of the business case, which will involve staff from human resources, legal and finance, is estimated to be up to £75,000 and officers have submitted a bid to the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership to cover that.

A detailed business case will now be drawn up focusing on the child and adult services departments over the next few months.

Senior officers said the cabinet committee would be kept fully up to speed as to how the work is progressing.

Any real savings wouldn’t be made until 2013-14 if the councils did look to work more closely together.