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‘Tri-borough’ working due to end in party-political acrimony

Each side has blamed the other for the split of the service-sharing arrangement

31 March, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Nickie Aiken

WESTMINSTER and Kensington and Chelsea councils have “reluctantly” told Hammersmith and Fulham that they will be bringing and end to its tri-borough.

Each side has blamed the other for the split of the service-sharing arrangement, first set up in 2011.

Leader of Westminster Council Nickie Aiken said: “We are unable to continue with tri-borough when we have a partner that we do not believe is committed to it, as we are, and appears to be making their own plans to leave, without any formal discussion.”

This view was shared by the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council Nicholas Paget-Brown. The tri-borough arrangement saw the three councils pool adult social care and public health and children’s services between them.

The Conservative-run city council warned that “uncertainty” caused by Hammersmith & Fulham was creating anxiety for those working in these sectors. But the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, Labour’s Stephen Cowan, said: “Problems with ‘tri-borough’ contracts, procured by Westminster City Council, have cost Hammersmith and Fulham over £5million, including the botched contract for special needs transport that put our disabled children at risk.”

Cllr Cowan added that they have had concerns with the tri-borough for some time, including its value for money, its “lack of transparency, and its built-in conflicts of interest”.

He added that the tri-borough has contributed to less than 1 per cent of the £31m in efficiencies they had made over the past two budgets. Hammersmith & Fulham, traditionally a Conservative-led borough, was taken over by Labour in 2014, with Cllr Cowan at the helm. Westminster’s Labour team blamed their own council’s “mismanagement” of back-office workings for the collapse, particularly regarding delays launching a contract with BT, which they say was the subject of eight private meet­­ings with the audit committee.

Westminster Council said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the BT contract as they were currently “in discussions” with them.

Cllr David Boothroyd, Labour finance spokesman, said: “Westminster has been done in by its own hype. Starting off with sensible proposals to share back-office staff and integrate services with neighbouring councils, they let a grand vision take priority over the practical. It’s no good telling everyone you’ve instituted a revolution in local government if you forget to pay your suppliers and children can’t get to school on time.”

Responding to Hammersmith and Fulham’s claims, the city council said: “Unfortunately, there can sometimes be issues with complex contracts and we acknowledge that things could always be done differently and better with the benefit of hindsight. But problems happen to all types of council, be they acting on their own, bi-borough or, in this case, tri-borough.”

Westminster councillor and London Assembly Member Tony Devenish added: “There are questions over how Hammersmith and Fulham will fund the shortfall of up to £52m caused by the end of tri-borough scheme. There is a real danger that, if this is not handled correctly, Cllr Cowan’s decision could severely impact on local services for vulnerable people.”

 

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