Merging Bucks councils cost taxpayers £10 million last year

County Hall offices in AylesburyCounty Hall offices in Aylesbury
County Hall offices in Aylesbury
The move to merge five councils into one Buckinghamshire local authority cost taxpayers almost £10 million last year.

Making Bucks County Council and the district councils in Wycombe, South Bucks, Chiltern and Aylesbury Vale defunct and implementing Buckinghamshire Council cost £9.939 million altogether in 2019/20.

However, this is an underspend of £2.9 million against the council’s original budget.

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The underspend largely came from savings in two departments and in one of these, the council underspent on branding by more than £500,000.

Rachael Shimmin is the chief executive of the new Buckinghamshire CouncilRachael Shimmin is the chief executive of the new Buckinghamshire Council
Rachael Shimmin is the chief executive of the new Buckinghamshire Council

Councillor Katrina Brown explained this saving was achieved through the use of the authority’s “excellent in-house expertise” which meant it could “avoid expensive external designers.”

Council leader Martin Tett added: “I’ve seen comments online about the squillions we’ve spent about getting our rebranding done by London consultancy firms, whatever.

“It’s absolute nonsense.

“This was done in-house by our own staff.

“It’s a great example of where we have really saved taxpayers’ money by doing things in-house that other people would spend lots of money employing other people to do.”

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Overall, Buckinghamshire Council spent £221,000 on branding, but some of this work was put on hold due to the pandemic and another £500,000 is budgeted for next year.

Transitioning to one council involved spending in areas such as social care, licensing, communications, property and staffing.

Another £9.5 million is planned to be spent on completing the transition this financial year (2020/21), with £620,000 of this being moved from last year’s budget.

At a meeting of the council’s top team where the budget adjustment was approved, councillor Tett explained why the funds were being allocated to the 2020/21 budget.

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He said: “It’s money that still needs to be spent but couldn’t be spent because of Covid-19.

“Things like the re-branding of buildings and so on. That still needs to be done.

“It couldn’t be done last year but needs to be done this year.

“That’s why we’re moving the money. It’s not stuffing it down the back of a settee for a rainy day.”

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The move was approved at a virtual meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday, June 16.

Spending over the two years is anticipated to leave Buckinghamshire Council’s unitary reserve with £2.67 million remaining.

At the end of this financial year, it is recommended this left-over cash is then moved to another authority reserve.

Oliver Sirrell , Local Democracy Reporting Service

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