Expert advice

Like many other local authorities, Surrey County Council faces a significant funding deficit and is undertaking a series of projects to either make savings or generate additional income to help balance its budget.

One of these projects has been a review of fees and charges in its Highways, Transport and Environment directorate, for things such as street works permits, search fees, skip licences, traffic orders and planning applications.

The council wanted to determine if its existing charges were proportionate when benchmarked against other local authorities, and to identify opportunities for the introduction of new fees and charges, or the cessation of discretionary services where charging was not feasible.

Productivity experts

The LGA’s Productivity Experts Programme supports councils to make savings and/or generate income against a backdrop of decreasing funding and increasing demand for services.

The LGA grants £7,000 to a council, which then commissions an expert with a track record of supporting local authorities and delivering results. The expert provides 12 days of direct, bespoke advice and support. In 2018/19, the programme worked with 42 councils, contributing towards efficiency savings and/or income generation of an estimated £42 million over the next four years. Councils, fire and rescue services and national parks can all apply for the grant funding. We encourage partnership applications with councils and public sector organisations, and can accept them at any time during the financial year. However, we are only able to give out 20 grants – so the advice is to apply quickly before they run out.

To give your innovative project a £7,000 grant boost, apply now for your own productivity expert. Visit www.local.gov.uk/productivity-experts-programme and click on ‘how to apply’ for our application criteria and form. Please email productivity@local.gov.uk if you need more information or help.

To help it do this, Surrey applied for funding from the Productivity Experts Programme (see panel), part of the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer, to pay for a commercial expert to carry out a review.

The in-depth review analysed existing data on current charging levels at Surrey, and compared these with those of neighbouring local authorities.

Where opportunities to increase charges were identified, the expert arranged one-to-one sessions with the relevant service managers to explore the implications and viability of doing so. The findings were detailed in a bespoke report for decision by senior managers and elected members.

The work identified more than £2 million of potential savings or income from additional fees and charges, on a budget of £4.1 million. These included approximately £1 million from increases to street works permit fees and a further £0.5 million from increases to other existing fees and charges (such as search fees). The remainder is from advertising and other ‘new’ opportunities that are to be investigated further and will take longer to realise.

The project has enabled the highways service to generate additional income, which can help to protect funding for locally important initiatives.

The approach from the review has also been used to conduct reviews of fees and charges in other directorates, with the council hopeful that this work could indirectly result in further savings beyond the initial £2 million identified.

Sarah Kershaw, Surrey’s Business Alignment Manager, said: “Benchmarking has proven to be an essential tool to help us identify saving and income opportunities. The support we have had from the LGA to do this has been invaluable.”

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