The leaders of Oldham and Rochdale councils have issued a joint statement, following the news that talks over the creation of a new joint management team had stalled.
Cllr Jim McMahon of Oldham, and his Rochdale counterpart Cllr Colin Lambert, insisted that the two authorities will continue to work together to save money in other areas.
A panel of ten senior councillors from both authorities have been examining ways in which more closer working between the two councils might help them balance their budgets.
There’s been widespread speculation in recent months that Oldham Council Chief Executive Charlie Parker might head a new joint team overseeing both authorities. But the suggestion now is that officials on the Rochdale side in particular were concerned about how that might affect the independence of their borough.
In the statement, Cllr McMahon was quoted as saying: “We have an excellent track record of working together and our working relationship is strong. The creation of a joint management team might have saved some money but in the light of recent decisions our focus now has to be on delivering our budget for next year and bringing forward our exciting proposals for the future of Oldham.”
Cllr Lambert added: “Reports of the death of joint working are greatly exaggerated. We had always made it clear that we were reviewing the scale of joint activity.”
He went on: “Although we have come to the conclusion that proposals for a shared management team and timescales proposed by the consultants would have been challenging to achieve we will continue to review services, as was always planned. We need to make sure that in the media attempt to create news, we are not derailed in meeting our budget challenge.”
Oldham was forced to find £41m of savings for the current financial year, because of a reduced funding settlement from central government. A further £24m must be trimmed from the 2012/13 budget, with another £14m needed in 2013/14 and an additional £13m required in 2014/15. Rochdale, having already found £64m of savings for the current financial year, must find a similar amount again in total over the next three years.
Later, Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Howard Sykes, who led Oldham Council until May, accused Labour of “incredible incompetence.”
In an e-mail to Saddleworth News, he commented: “I can’t believe that in such a short space of time Labour could have contrived to make such a monumental cock up. The last Lib Dem administration left a good working relationship between Oldham and Rochdale which could have delivered up to half the total savings both councils need to find over the next three years.”
Cllr Sykes went on: “This was the most obvious and beneficial way to find a huge chunk of the massive savings both councils needed to make, savings which would have been achieved by sharing management, sharing human resources, reducing duplication.”
He concluded: “Talk of loss of local democratic control by either council is a smokescreen to hide Labour’s failure. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is a very bad day for Oldham Council, its staff and the citizens of this borough.”
You can read yesterday’s Saddleworth News article about this here.
(UPDATE 19/7: This article was updated following publication to include the comments from Cllr Sykes)