Friday, 30 October 2009

Can you believe it?!

This has been a busy week for those of us involved in trying to balance StEd's budget for the next financial year. The challenge is finding savings or new income to bridge the gulf between what the government gives us and what the council taxpayer forks out. This year and next we are looking to fill a total £2.5m gap, as a result of:

a very small increase in grant (1% this year almost certainly reducing to a minus ?% in 2011/2012);

plummeting interest rates on our capital, itself reducing because of the massive investment in the borough's two towns;

an increased demand for our services such as benefit claims; and

a decrease in fees from planning applications and building control.

Put those factors together and the eye-watering result is not surprising. Having predicted this via our continuous financial forecasting, staff have been working since February to find about £1.3m 'soft savings' or income' without reducing front line services. The next part of the gap is harder, and councillors will be asked to approve savings or income of about half a million pounds on more tangible projects; hence the stories in the local press.

Sadly newspapers do not thrive just on good news, and local authorities are always ripe for criticising. Look at the following negatively spun facts this week alone.

Headlines proclaiming the success of the council in bridging a large part of the gap make way for:

Creating a fantastically good value heritage' season ticket for Moyse's Hall/West Stow becomes:
charging entry to Moyse's Hall.

Relocating to more appropriate accommodation in Haverhill is:
closing the Haverhill office.

Consulting with UNISON about how to get better value from different working practices and thus saving staff costs - which may involve staff redeployment, natural wastage and possibly redundancy (with twice the state redundancy payment) becomes:

Toilet attendants may be axed...

£2.5m = millions of pounds

I could go on, but I think you get my drift.


Bury Boy said...

At least you cut out a management director ( £70,000), and actually realised that some jobs could be shared with other councils.How about a 20% reduction in staff costs at west suffolk house. If other councils can cut 200 jobs we can and should alos. Time to grasp the nettle, cut jobs, cut pensions, cut red tape. Its a clear choice do it now or wait until Dave gets in and cut them then. After all the private and business sectors have had to cut year on year. Not a popular view I know but you know it has merit.

Councillor Paul Farmer said...

Thanks for the recognition BB, but it isn't a case of "at last".

Actually we've been doing this for some years by saving:

05/06 £1.293m
06/07 £1.117m
07/08 £1.260m
08/09 £0.917m
09/10 £1.192m

Often these savings have been made by not replacing staff who leave or not renewing temporary posts. If we can continue finding savings and new income without decimating our workforce we will retain their goodwill and high morale. We have recently been rated with the top score ("Excellent") by the Audit Commission for our use of resources, and that must impress even you?

Bury Boy said...

Ha Paul.
You have been saving "pennies" not "pounds", If it is not a local secret, what are the head count numbers for the years quoted ?, are not these savings mentioned on the whole NON person based, usally cuts in services or budgets or expenses, buildings etc That said savings are an ongoing exercise in todays economic climate, we rate payers dont have a never ending supply of money you know.

I dont recall being asked if we wanted to "pay extra" for goodwill and high morale. Its a nice to have but is it worth taking the food from a childs mouth (to term a phase) who can tell.
I favour fewer, more focused, and harder working council officials, at the customer interface, with fewer managers, and 40% fewer Directors and non productives would be better. Lean and good value for money. Its work not a social pass time, or happy hour.

As to the Audit, not impressed, Sorry, its just a pat on the back, and a comparision index. The audit commission or audit accountants can only check that you are following the procedures you your selfs create, while comparing them to others in the same sinking boat, It would be streching the truth to say it was "bench marking", or even world class.
Do these audits add value ? I doubt it, more they tell you are doing some thing, you waste time money and effort for a good report which has little value to the rate payer, and it is quite possible the audit makes no difference in the long run. Good Managers who are left to Manage DONT need audit checks, they need to be left to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

I would urge you to be stronger and seek futher head count savings, and grasp those thorny issues now.

I appricate your reply has to be measured because no doubt those you praise may also read this, and we dont want to effect moral do we,after all we are paying for it.

Councillor Paul Farmer said...

And a Happy Halloween to you too BB!

Bury Boy said...

Thanks for the reminder paul, I must find the Bury Free Press, and cut out the "go away" poster. Apart from it really upsets Florrie, who is a touch house protective.I cant stand this creeping Amercian sweet fest, At a time we are letting our own culture slip, we let this amercian festival in. Before we know it we will have a thanksgiving holiday.........