Four district and borough councils could team up to share waste services, in what has been called the most “radical joint working approach in local government today”.
In a 2020 Vision for Joint Working report, Cotswold district council, Forest of Dean district council, Cheltenham borough council, and West Oxfordshire district council outlined their plan to provide local services to a combined population of 400,000 residents.
The four authorities already have a number of shared working arrangements, including joint ICT services and back office support services.
Total savings produced to date as a result of these initiatives are estimated to exceed £2.9million per year. Through further co-operation across support and waste services by 2020, it is expected the councils could save up to £5.5million per year.
At present, both Cotswold and Cheltenham councils already provide shared waste services under Ubico Ltd, a teckal-exempt company that was jointly created by the two authorities in 2012.
Before the partnership, Cheltenham carried out its waste services in-house, while Cotswold had previously outsourced its services to private waste company SITA UK.
The transition has seen Ubico carry out waste collections, grounds maintenance, street cleansing and fleet management all on behalf of the authorities, with estimated combined savings of more than £1million in costs per year. In addition, 220 former council employees have been transferred to the company under TUPE.
Ubico forms part of a long-term strategy developed under the Gloucestershire Joint Waste Committee which also comprises Forest of Dean district council and Gloucestershire county council.
“We knew that creating the company, in partnership with our colleagues at Cheltenham, would probably yield dividends but Ubico has done spectacularly well,” said councillor Lynden Stowe, leader of Cotswold district council. “Not only did it enable us to introduce kerbside plastic recycling in this district for the very first time, it also generated considerable savings which have helped us to reduce our share of Council Tax bills and freeze prices for parking, green waste collections and leisure until at least 2016.
“We may use some of this money to increase the number of local authority partners in Ubico, as well as extending the range of services the company offers.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Cotswold district council said the inclusion of Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire under the “Ubico umbrella” is currently under consideration, with potential including increased efficiency, cross-border working, and joint procurement.
But, commenting on the 2020 Vision programme, a spokeswoman for Forest of Dean said it was “too early to speculate” whether the council would join Ubico.
She said: “Our present waste collection, recycling and street cleaning contracts with Biffa do not expire until 2018. We will begin a comprehensive procurement exercise at about this time next year.”
Meanwhile, the report acknowledges that to finance the project, the councils will have to submit further funding bids of up to £200,000 each to the DCLG-backed Transformation Challenge Award for 2014/15 and 2015/16. The scheme – which recognises and supports joint working initiatives – allocated £14million to projects across the UK last year, with the four councils jointly receiving £500,000.
But, the report recognises there could be resistance to further integration, as combining services could be perceived as a takeover by staff, and a threat to the independence of an authority. The project intends to curb this through ‘extensive consultation’ with trade unions and employee groups.
The councils’ next steps will be to define the 2020 Vision Programme and provide a timetable by July this year.
A funding bid for the project is expected to be submitted by October 2014.
Each of the councils is to scrutinise the proposals later this month.