Shared services? What we need is an elected mayor
I see trouble ahead in the quest for councils to share services.
Today we report how Merseyside councils are looking sharing everything from lawyers and payroll, to gritting.
This is exactly the type of thing that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles wants councils to do. In fact the meagre government settlement means that local authorities have little choice but to do this.
Merseyside local authorities already cooperate through the Merseyside Pension Fund, and the system works well. Planning long term investment for workers' retirement is very different though to services that deal with fast moving situations.
God help us if Sefton council takes over running gritting for the entire of Merseyside. Last year the council's chronic failure to deal with the borough's roads was a scandal.
Who will take political responsibility in future if the whole of Merseyside grinds to a halt?
Equally, remember the rows between Liverpool and Knowsley over the development of Edge Lane Retail Park, or the Everton FC and Tesco plan Destination Kirkby?
Clearly both sides would have to instruct different lawyers when situations like this arise.
These are just two examples that show that sharing services will be more complicated than simply signing a piece of paper and cashing in the savings.
Councils of course already know this, which is why ideas like this are only just being floated out of a desperate necessity to save money.
I remember when I worked in Lancashire. Blackburn with Darwen held preliminary talks with Hyndburn about sharing back office services.
Within a week the idea was dead after it was seen as a Big Brother takeover in Hyndburn.
And taken to its logical conclusion sharing services would see the merger of certain parts of councils.
Which leads me to conclude that shared services is the right step to saving cash, even if it is fraught with problems.
But what Eric Pickles should really be suggesting for city region's like Liverpool, is local government reorganisation.
An elected mayor for the whole region (like Boris Johnson in greater London), with councils becoming like district councils in charge of very localised services.
It would lead to better accountability and planning, and cheaper services.
But just as councils have previously balked at sharing services because it was too difficult, Pickles decided proper local government reform is too troublesome.