Many of us would intuitively agree with the truism that two heads are better than one but that doesn’t mean that we work that way. In the public sector there are often tens or even hundreds of organisations that carry out similar functions to each other but in different localities. Despite 20 or 30 years of talking about sharing services, in one way or another, little happens. Whilst most public bodies have the power to work with others they are not obliged to do so. That is not always the case, though.
Over the last year I have been working with Lincolnshire Police. In the UK police forces are expected to collaborate with each other in order to save money. This is not so relevant for routine policing but neighbouring forces can share in the savings made when specialist services are combined into a single team. There are examples of this all over the country.
I recently discovered that the Welsh Assembly has passed an act (acts are called measures, though, in Wales) that requires Welsh local authorities to collaborate with each other with a view to improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of local government services. The measure is not prescriptive about which services to collaborate on or the form of the collaboration: these decisions are left to the local authorities to work out together.
One aspect of any collaborative arrangement that has to be resolved is what form the collaboration should take. In legal terms this could range from informal arrangements through delegation from one authority to another, a formal contractual arrangement to a joint venture company or joint committee. Recently the Welsh Local Government Association commissioned Trowers and Hamlins to give general legal advice on the pros and cons of the various collaborative arrangements that are available to local authorities. This guidance has just been published on the WLGA’s website.
I mention this partly because I contributed to the document in terms of the financial implications of each of the possible arrangements. I also mention it, though, because it might be useful to managers in local authorities outside of Wales. The exact nuances of the law might be different—and any local authority, in Wales or elsewhere, should get specific legal advice on their specific proposals and not rely on the contents of a general report—but in broad terms the report can help decide which forms of collaboration might be suitable and which are not.