THERE were heated exchanges in the Farnham Maltings on Tuesday night as Waverley’s back-office merger with Guildford Borough Council moved a step closer.

Meetings took place simultaneously in Waverley – at the Maltings to adhere to social-distancing requirements – and Guildford as members of both councils debated plans to combine several key administrative functions.

Under the proposals, both councils will share a single senior management team, including a chief executive, directors and heads of service.

And once in place, the new management team will prepare business cases for further combining of services and admin duties.

It is hoped the move will save around £1.4 million in the first year and could lead to “significant saving opportunities” in the future – helping the councils reduce costs and address projected budget shortfalls arising from continuing cuts to their funding from central government.

A February report by KPMG also highlighted a clear need for neighbouring authorities across Surrey to expand on existing partnerships to provide better value for money for residents.

And Waverley leader Paul Follows said it puts Waverley and Guildford in a stronger position to combat the “existential threat” posed by Surrey County Council’s ‘mega-council’ plans.

Cllr Follows added government cuts have left authorities “having to contemplate really tough choices about cutting local services to make ends meet”. And despite an “ambitious programme” of savings, Waverley is still facing a budget shortfall of £7.8m over the next four years, he said.

The Godalming councillor continued: “Cooperation with our neighbour Guildford could not only allow us to make financial savings and protect our services, but by combining our strengths could actually help us both to improve our services, even as other areas are having to contemplate cuts to theirs.”

There was fierce dissent by much of Waverley’s Tory opposition, including accusations of foul play and claims key staff were already jumping ship at both councils in anticipation of redundancies.

“This is going to be a very messy business,” warned deputy leader of the opposition group, Cllr Carole Cockburn. “It is irresponsible, cruel and unnecessary. You are going to damage a lot of people if you go ahead with this.”

But at the vote, the proposal was passed 23 votes for, to 16 against and one abstention.