Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has praised Black Country councils as “the future of local government” after they began talks about sharing key staff and managers.
Mr Pickles said they could avoid cutting services, despite a dramatic cut in Government funding, by cutting back office costs.
He wants authorities to share senior staff such as chief executives, and to merge departments such as finance and personnel, so that there is more money available for front-line services. And he was told by Stourbridge MP Margot James that Black Country authorities were already drawing up plans to do just that.
She praised Dudley Council, on engaging in discussions with Wolverhampton, Walsall and Sandwell councils about rationalising services and reducing back-office costs without affecting front-line service.
Mr Pickles told her: “I have to say that that is the future of local government. We expect local authorities to merge services and to protect the front line.
“Prudent councils are doing that. Councils that are more content to use the poor and the vulnerable as a battering ram against the Government will seek to protect the centre and not seek to protect front-line services, whereas good councils will protect the front line.”
The Black Country councils are currently in talks about sharing functions such as trading standards staff and IT.
Coun Mike Bird, leader of Walsall Council, said: “This is indeed an historic moment, an example of councillors of all political persuasions working together for the common good of the Black Country.”
Mr Pickles also warned that other councils had no excuse for cutting back when they could follow the Black Country’s example instead.
Labour MP David Wright (Telford) told him council funding for services such as citizens advice bureau was “going to get a hammering” as a result of cuts.
But Mr Pickles said: “They have to restructure, they have to change and they have to share services. If they do not do that, they will rue the day when they cut back on Citizens Advice and similar voluntary organisations.”
However, fellow Labour MP Jack Dromey (Lab Erdington) (Lab) said local councils were predicting up to 140,000 job cuts.
He asked: “Do Ministers know, or is the truth that they simply do not care about the public servants they will lay off or the public services that they will lay to waste?”