Local councils have been told to share back office functions and buy goods and services together to gain discounts and reduce administration costs.

In a document, 50 ways to save: examples of sensible savings in local government, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government this week, councils were given 50 ideas on how to reduce their annual spend while preserving service delivery.

Among the suggestions were a number of actions involving procurement. It called for the sharing of back office functions such as press, HR and legal; for councils to buy together through local purchasing bodies such as YPO; and to more generally make improvements to procurement.

In a foreword to the document, Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, said: “Every bit of the public sector needs to do their bit to pay off the budget deficit inherited from the last administration, including local government which accounts for a quarter of all public spending. Councils should focus on cutting waste and making sensible savings to protect frontline services and keep council tax down.”

The department also called on councils to take action to tackle fraud and specifically to reduce the potential for procurement fraud, to cut down use of external consultants and agency staff, and to reduce printing costs by stopping glossy brochures and only print documents in hard copy on request.

The suggestions also included a number of proposals for local authorities to generate revenue, including leasing out unused art, opening coffee shops in libraries, and selling services to the private and voluntary sector.

In terms of changes to staffing arrangements at councils, it called for away days to be held in council-owned venues rather than “posh hotels” and for attendance at “glitzy award ceremonies” to be stopped. It also said senior staff should be shared across councils, while the chief executive position should be scrapped altogether.

The document was published as Pickles announced to Parliament the budget for local councils in England would be set at £26 billion, representing a 1.7 per cent cut in real terms. Hilary Benn, the Labour Party’s shadow communities and local government secretary, said of the settlement: “David Cameron and Eric Pickles are living in a world of their own. They simply don’t understand the impact that their decisions on funding are having on services and the local people who use and rely upon them.”

21 December 2012 Adam Leach, Supply Management

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