A BACK-OFFICE merger of cash-strapped Waverley and Guildford councils has taken a significant step forwards after council chiefs signed off the move ‘subject to financial implications’ last week.

In February this year, executive committees at Waverley and Guildford borough councils – both currently run by Lib Dems – endorsed working more closely together, and with the support of the Local Government Association have been exploring options for combining services and administrative functions.

Last week, both councils’ executives discussed these options further and agreed to make a decision on the next step for partnership working at their respective full council meetings on July 6.

It is proposed that Waverley and Guildford form a single management team, including appointing a single joint chief executive to act as a head of paid service for both councils.

It is hoped this would provide “significant financial benefits”, and potentially lead to “economies of scale” in the delivery of some services and increased purchasing power when negotiating with suppliers and contractors.

Addressing councillors at Waverley’s June 22 executive meeting, portfolio holder for finance Mark Merryweather highlighted that the savings proposed would be the “largest single contributor to closing the council’s budget gap”.

But leader of the council’s Tory opposition group Stephen Mulliner called for more clarification on the potential savings to be made from, and any costs of, a collaboration.

He asked that the draft agreement between the councils be shared with all councillors “at the earliest opportunity” to reassure those with concerns that the proposals would work.

Farnham Residents’ councillor Jerry Hyman also expressed concern whether the savings identified would be sufficient to address the financial challenges of the council.

Responding, Waverley’s Lib Dem leader Paul Follows proposed a refined recommendation, backing the back office merger “subject to the receipt of further information on the financial implications of appointing a single joint chief executive”.

He also advised that the recruitment process would include the leader of the opposition group of both councils.

It comes after a KPMG report into local government reorganisation and collaboration, published earlier this year, highlighted a clear need for neighbouring authorities across Surrey to consider the expansion of existing partnerships to reduce the duplication of services, increase efficiency and provide better value for money.