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Merger of Gravesham and Tonbridge & Malling councils' revenue and benefits services scrapped ahead of Universal Credit roll out

By Ed McConnell

After nine months of planning, a scheme to combine two borough councils' revenue and benefits services saving tens of thousands of pounds has been scrapped.

In March, Gravesham council formally approved plans to share the services with Tonbridge and Malling and save £100,000 a year. It is not known how much TMBC would have saved as a result.

Since then staff from both councils have been working together ahead of a scheduled implementation date of this July.

The scheme was expected to save £100,000 a year in Gravesham alone
The scheme was expected to save £100,000 a year in Gravesham alone

The shared service was announced as part of the wider ‘Bridging the Gap’ strategy aimed at making an annual saving of £2.6m by next year in the wake of government cuts.

But at a cabinet meeting on Monday councillors were asked to axe the scheme after a number of issues were flagged up.

Three main reasons were given for the recommendation, with the first being the looming introduction of Universal Credit (UC).

It will replace the six current benefits with one single monthly payment in Gravesham in May and in Tonbridge and Malling in November. It is not known what the impact of UC will be on the revenue and benefits service and it is “not considered sensible to implement a shared system when such volatility exists”.

Secondly, recent discussions between the leaders of Dartford, Gravesham, Medway, Maidstone and Swale councils – known as the north Kent cluster – have centred around sharing services.

Therefore, sharing revenue and benefits with a separate authority was seen as potentially problematic.

Thirdly, a number of technical difficulties have also been identified in the planning process.

Councillors voted unanimously to cease the project.

Gravesham council says the merger has not cost anything to date.

It is not known if any other services will be affected by the decision.

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