The new Joint Chief Executive for Guildford and Waverley Borough Council's has described the next stages of the collaborative partnership that is aimed at reducing costs and sustaining local public services. Tom Horwood started his role on 1 December 2021, having been chief executive at Waverley for four years, and previously a shared Director of two councils in Hampshire. In an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting at Guildford and in a message to all councillors and staff, he said the collaboration now focuses on implementing the two parts of the resolutions agreed by both councils last year.
Tom Horwood explains: “The councils agreed that a contract would be needed between them, called an inter-authority agreement. A cross-party group of six councillors – three from each council – has been meeting weekly to go through the principles of partnership working that will then be reflected in the agreement. These include financial cost and benefit sharing, HR principles, dispute resolution and how assets will be used. The content of this agreement will be presented to both councils, hopefully in April, before being turned into the formal legal document so that the governance is clear and right for both partners at an early stage.
“Secondly, the councils agreed to create a joint management team, which will then bring forward business cases for further collaboration. I have invited an independent and experienced consultant to support me with this over the next few weeks, using some of the money (£16,300) saved from combining two chief executive posts into one. This will involve looking at two very different senior management structures and suggesting options for the future that will work for service delivery and meet the need to save money. Senior councillors and colleagues will be involved in this process as the ideas develop.
“My priority is for the councils to continue to deliver our important services during this time of change, to support staff and to communicate with councillors as any changes are proposed. I’ve enjoyed the last few weeks getting to meet colleagues, councillors and other partners, and discussing their priorities and ambitions.”
Leader of Waverley Borough Council, Councillor Paul Follows, said: “I’m very pleased that we have been able to progress to this next stage in our partnership with Guildford and I want to thank the staff and councillors at both councils for their professionalism and hard work in getting us to this point. The next phase is crucial in determining the overall success of our future relationship and we need to ensure that we have clear understanding and agreement between both partners on exactly how we will work together – and that we have the right structure in place to take both councils forward under a single officer team.
“Guildford and Waverley have a great deal in common and in many respects are natural partners, but the underlying reason for our collaboration is the uncertain financial outlook caused by continued cuts to local authority funding from Government. Our latest Medium-Term Financial Plan projects cumulative gross budgetary pressures of £14.8 million over the next four years, with just £12.8 million of savings identified to date. We continue to explore a range of options to close our funding gap, but we now face greater pressure than ever, with the increase in our NI contributions from April and rapidly rising inflation. Our projected budget shortfall will compound year-on-year, so there is no time to lose as we progress our partnership in order to make additional savings and help protect vital services for our communities.
“I want to reassure our residents and businesses that while we are co-operating more closely, our two councils will remain separate entities with our own decision-making processes and finances, and we will continue to focus entirely on the needs of our own communities. By working together and combining our strengths, we expect to not only make efficiency savings but also improve our local services.”
Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Joss Bigmore said: “We continue to operate in extremely challenging times with both councils facing ongoing and increasing budget deficits. The collaboration is part of our Savings Strategy and will mean we will realise tangible benefits from cost saving to resilience. Despite being on track to achieve our target of £8million savings through our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, we need to save a further £6millon - 10% of our spending - over the next four years.”
He added: “We remain confident that closer partnership working through a Joint Chief Executive and shared management team, while each retaining separate democratic identities, is the best option for future proofing our services for residents. It has been great working with Tom over the past two months drawing on his skills and experience in local government. I am pleased we’re close to the point of an inter-authority agreement being formally presented to councillors. Thank you to everyone who is working on this.”