Hundreds of local government jobs would be axed if a new ‘unitary’ authority was created in Hertfordshire, a report suggests.

Currently Hertfordshire’s existing ‘two-tier’ system of local government includes 10 district and borough councils and the county council.

But exploratory work by PwC – commissioned by Hertfordshire County Council – suggests replacing them with a transformed ‘unitary’ authority could save up to £142 million a year.

And that work shows that £68 million of those savings would come from reduced staffing costs – equating to the loss of hundreds of jobs across the local government sector.

The work, which has been published by the county council, does not outline exactly how those staff savings could be made – or the overall number of posts involved.

But in some ‘stretch’ scenarios the report suggests the number of staff in ‘back office’ functions could be cut by 32 per cent and ‘front office’ roles by 20 per cent.

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council has said it is “far too early to talk about specific job numbers” and that it “would not be appropriate to do so”.

But leader of the county council Cllr David Williams has said there would be a will to minimise the impact on staff across all councils, should a unitary system be introduced.

Watford Observer:

Cllr David Williams

“People who work in local government will have seen local government reform happen in other areas,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“And they will appreciate there is a trend here in terms of how local government is likely to be reorganised over the course of this parliament.

“Inevitably when looking at change there will be an element of uncertainty.”

Cllr Williams says a single management team – rather than one for every council – would mean fewer senior staff in a unitary model.

But he suggests significant change could be brought about through ‘natural wastage’.

And he also points to past success in staff moving from one area of the council to another, where needed.

In their 71-page report, ‘Local Government Reform in Hertfordshire’, PwC consider three different options for the future of the county.

Those options are greater collaboration under the existing two-tier system, the creation of a single unitary authority and the creation of two unitary authorities.

And the report also considers the impact of additional ‘transformation’ following any reorganisation to a unitary model.

Moving to a single unitary model would, it suggests, save £10.6 million a year in staffing costs – based on the reduction of the workforce by 3.5 per cent.

But it goes on to suggest that following further ‘transformation’ staffing costs could be cut further, by between £37.9 million and £57.8 million.

Meanwhile, if there were to be two unitary authorities the report estimates staffing costs would be cut by £6 million as a result of re-organisation, based on the reduction of the workforce by two per cent.

And it suggests that ‘transformation’ could see staffing costs on that two council model cut further by between £26.9 million and £43 million.

Alongside reductions in staffing costs, the report suggests that a unitary model would cut property and IT costs, reduce ‘third party spend’ and – with fewer councillors – reduce the costs of elections and committees, in addition to reduced staff costs.

Overall their work suggests that ‘re-organisation’ to a single authority without further transformation could save £34 million overall. And with additional transformation savings – including staffing – could total between £97.5 million and £142.7 million.

Meanwhile it suggests that reorganising Hertfordshire into two unitary authorities – without further transformation – could save £24.2m a year.

And with further transformation they estimate the two unitary council model could save between £70.3 million and £105.5 million.

The report suggests a single unitary authority would provide a single stronger voice, simplified access to services and the opportunity to review community engagement.

However it recognises the single council could seem remote and that any period of change could be destabilising.

The report suggests that if there were two unitary authorities some economies of scale would be realised and there would be an opportunity to develop a shared approach between the two councils.

But it says it have have unintended consequences for the fire service and other services that work within hr Hertfordshire boundary.

The report assumes Broxbourne, east Herts, North Herts, Stevenage and Welwyn Hatfield would sit within a ‘north east’ unitary authority in a two-council model.

Meanwhile it assumes Dacorum, Hertsmere, St Albans, Three Rivers and Watford would sit in a ‘south west’ authority.

The report also suggests that building greater collaboration but retaining the two tier structure could save between £12.7 million and £31.1 million a year.

Commenting further on the PwC report., a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “What the PwC report shows is that there are some substantial benefits – potentially up to £100 million – therefore it is important that we hold discussions with partners on the way we are organised and deliver public services in Hertfordshire.

“Some of these initial financial projections are based on assumptions from experience in other parts of the country in terms of the reduction in roles over time (e.g 3.5 per cent for a single unitary), as well as making further savings on buildings and office space.

“The next step is to await the publication of the Government’s white paper, due in the early autumn, that will help guide and frame these discussions.”