End of the love-in

East Hampshire District Council has announced it is to abandon its longstanding partnership with Havant District Council.

The most popular day to start divorce proceedings is 8th January. The councils have got in two days early.

The two organisations have always retained their own separate councils of elected members who are answerable to the public but have worked together since 2009 when they introduced a joint chief executive, Sandy Hopkins.

Ms Hopkins left at the end of 2018 and Gill Kneller has held the position since then.

In recent years an increasing number of staff (known as ‘officers’ in council jargon) have started to serve both operations. The two organisations also share an IT system, legal team and other back-office departments.

Today’s announcement comes as a surprise. A plan to advance collaboration between the two councils and introduce new working practices has been underway since last year. They had already spent around a third of a million pounds of public money on the so-called ‘Shaping our Future’ programme.

It also means further uncertainty for council staff who already face the likely loss of their Penns Place office base in Petersfield.

The two organisations have an agreement in place for waste management with bins being emptied by Norse South East, a company owned in part by Havant Borough Council. The long-term future of that arrangement was already in focus because of wider proposals to introduce a Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy for the whole of Hampshire.

East Hampshire says the partnership has delivered “significant savings” for both councils over twelve years but it has different strategic priorities from Havant and will be able to work faster alone.

Details of the separation or what judgements led to its sudden announcement remain sketchy at the moment. We have asked East Hampshire District Council for a representative to discuss what it will mean to Shine Radio listeners.

A wider re-organisation of local government in England has been mooted by ministers. Petersfield is unusual to have four layers of local government with a Town Council, a District Council, the County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority all exerting influence on the lives of local people and spending tax receipts.

The next meeting of the full council is scheduled for Thursday 20 January. Members of the public are welcome to attend and these meetings are generally streamed live online.

A councillor speaks out

Jamie Matthews is the independent councillor for Petersfield’s Bell Hill ward on East Hampshire District Council. Writing on social media, he says the council’s hand was forced and suggests today’s announcement is an admission of failure.

Local Government in England is going to be reformed. Either local authorities work together to come up with solutions or central government will impose a change, like they did for the 1974 reorganisation.

Small district authorities like EHDC will not survive in their current form and neither will behemoths like Hampshire County. New Unitary Authorities will be implemented, and it is already happening in other parts of England.

After 12 years following the concept of working together locally, the abrupt announcement to end to the shared arrangements with HBC is clearly a failure of local politicians to work locally help shape the future of local government in our area.

After 12 years with a shared CEO and senior directors, the most immediate change could mean bigger staff costs for each individual authority unless they employee part time CEOs and directors.

The public will clearly be asking questions about the recent organisational changes at HBC and EHDC which resulted in reduced headcount in an attempt to create a single workforce. Did the (significant) costs of implementing those change provide value for money to the Council Tax payers of East Hampshire??

Cllr Jamie Matthews

Full text of the East Hampshire district council statement

After a 12-year partnership, East Hampshire District Council and Havant Borough Council have decided that it is the right moment to establish their own management teams so they can focus on their different strategic priorities and deliver outcomes for their communities more quickly.

The partnership has been very successful since it was created in 2009 and has delivered significant savings for both councils – as well as providing other benefits.

Cllr Richard Millard, Leader of East Hampshire District Council, said: “We have worked as close partners because we have had a number of shared interests over the years – but now is the time to focus on our specific areas and really target our energy into delivering outcomes which benefit our specific communities.

“The management team and staff across both organisations have done an absolutely fantastic job and I look forward to continuing to work with them to deliver our priorities.”

Cllr Alex Rennie, Leader of Havant Borough Council, said: “We have had a really successful partnership but this is the right moment to move in our own directions.

“I would like to thank all the staff who have pulled out all the stops to deliver our shared priorities.

“I envisage that we will continue to work closely where there are tangible benefits for our communities.”