LIBRARIES, swimming pools and arts funding could be saved if councils merged back office services, it has been claimed.
Figures released by the Local Government Association show councils in the region have failed to follow the example of more than 300 authorities elsewhere and share services such as accounts, human resources or educational support.
The claims have been dismissed by the likes of Newcastle City Council, which insists work is ongoing to find those savings.
South Tyneside Council has a partnership with BT to provide admin services which could be used by many other local authorities. Comparisons with other council groups suggest more than £10m could be saved. That money could then be used to help prevent some of the crippling arts cuts likely to hit Newcastle in three years’ time.
North East Conservatives have now called on councils to do more to prevent axing much-used services.
Robert Oliver, Tory group leader in Sunderland, said: “There is plenty of scope for North East councils to combine services especially on ICT, procurement and schools services.
“Currently, the region is lagging behind other parts of the country where significant savings have been made.
“Small, metropolitan councils are especially suited to sharing services with Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside already working together on waste management.”
Iain Malcolm, Labour leader of South Tyneside Council, has been clear his local authority managed to avoid further job losses by making an early decision to bring in BT.
He said: “We would be right now facing a serious financial problem if we had not entered into the strategic partnership. We took the decision and now we are thankfully not in the position where we are cutting as far into our frontline.”
Mr Malcolm is one of those leading efforts to try to create a combined authority covering Tyne & Wear and possibly Durham and Northumberland.
While local services would still remain with councils, big decisions over new business parks or transport routes would be taken jointly.
Alongside this could come a new look at sharing services.
A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said: “We have undertaken a range of joint procurements with neighbouring councils, for example on the purchase of gas and electricity. Our legal services department is currently working on a joint venture with colleagues at North Tyneside Council to provide traded services. In addition we are also working closely with Newcastle University on sharing further services.
“This is an area of work that is reaping valuable savings for the authority and is something that we are looking to extend with other public sector organisations.”