New ground-breaking company will safeguard local services

Publication date: 28 Sep 2017

In November, Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire District Councils are launching a ground-breaking partnership which promises to deliver better local services for residents.

Four partner councils - Cotswold District Council, Cheltenham Borough Council, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire District Council - have created the new company Publica Group Ltd to deliver more efficient and improved services. 

Employees from Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire councils, will transfer into Publica and continue to provide services for local residents.

However, the councils will continue to be responsible for the standard of services that are provided as well as setting strategy, policy and making decisions.

So why are the councils doing this?

The purpose is to create more value through improving efficiency and reducing costs, while at the same time improving services.

Creating one company with staff from each council will reduce the cost of management and administration and provide the opportunity to share workloads, learn from each other and benefit from shared expertise and knowledge. 

Ultimately, the aim is to deliver a better and more cost effective service.  

The benefits of partnership working and sharing services are not new to the councils. This month is the ninth anniversary of a very successful partnership between Cotswold and West Oxfordshire which began with the sharing of a Chief Executive and subsequently encompassed a range of managerial and support services - with combined savings growing to around £1.9m a year.

In 2012, the councils took the partnership a stage further by creating Gloucestershire & Oxfordshire (GO) Shared Services), along with the Forest of Dean and Cheltenham Councils. GO Shared Services provide a shared human resources, finance and payroll function.  

Last year, the shared services were extended to include ICT, public protection, building control, legal, property and customer services. Additionally, a Joint Committee was established to oversee the partnership and to take it on the next stage of its journey.

During the last decade, the councils have learned how to make the most of collaboration and partnership, they’ve seen the savings it can generate while benefiting the services they offer.

Those savings have been substantial; over the last 10 years Cotswold has saved £13m, Forest £1.35m and West Oxfordshire £9m when adding in savings delivered through their shared Environmental Services company, Ubico. 

Realising that this was the best way to deliver the savings required by local authorities without services suffering they created Publica and that’s where their partnership journey continues.

What does this mean for residents?

Residents will not see a difference in the way that their services are delivered, who they contact and how they contact them. 

The councils will remain as they are and will be the place local residents go to for all their normal services, advice and support. 

What does this mean for staff?

Existing employees of the councils will be transferred to Publica in November. They will be transferred under special arrangements that safeguard them and protect their terms and conditions. Once they’re together in one company with employees from the other partner Councils they will look at how the services they provide can benefit from the new company set up.

Publica will also start recruiting new employees to join the team, and will move away from the traditional public sector pay and benefits package by offering something new with greater choice for new employees.

The councils together are expecting to make savings of around £5.6 million per year by 2020, and £41 million in total over the next ten years.

Leader of Cotswold District Council, Councillor Mark Annett said: “This is an exciting time for us as we take the next step of our journey with our partner councils to create a jointly owned public company.”

Cabinet member for Finance, Governance, Performance and Shared Working at Forest of Dean District Council, Councillor Roger James said: “Publica is a creative and enterprising solution to our modern day challenges and I am confident that our community will benefit from the continued shared experience and expertise this brings together from staff across the partner councils.”

Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, Cllr James Mills, said: “By creating one company with staff from each council, we can reduce management and administration costs, share workloads and learn from each other’s expertise and knowledge.

“Residents will see little or no change to frontline services and decisions will continue to be made by locally elected councillors taking the needs of the local community of West Oxfordshire into account.”

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