The Cuts in Action: A Local Council’s Approach

axe man
Image by Dystopos via Flickr

Not All He’s Cracked Up to Be

As we contemplate the violence and thuggery that followed Saturday’s TUC anti-cuts march, here is a reminder of what we are up against.

In an idle moment today, I read the leaflet that was delivered with our council tax bill. It is a joint leaflet between the County Council and the Police Authority. It provides two very clear examples of what is happening in the public sector, and why those anti-cuts marchers were so misguided.

Exhibit 1: in the introduction for the County Council, the Conservative leader of the council is quoted thus:

With £136 million to save over the next four years, and £73 million in this financial year alone, we’ve had some very difficult decisions to make.

Later in the leaflet, the figures are shown for council expenditure:

2010/11 – £1,045 million
2011/12 – £1,032 million

Subtracting one from the other gives a reduction of £13 million.

And for those who are mathematically challenged, £13 million does not equal £73 million.

Exhibit 2: the Police Authority budget is split into three parts.

First, the “Crime and Justice Command”. This covers things like major crime investigations, forensics, the CID and Special Branch. The money for that is going down this year from £34.6 million to £33.6 million, a cut of £1 million or 3 percent.

Second, the “Territorial Command”. This covers local policing – things like bobbies on the beat, the emergency response teams and the Communications Centre. The money for that is being cut more, from £44.2 million to £41.2 million, a cut of £3 million or 7 percent.

And third, “Other Departments and functions”. This is described as “including HR, Finance, Training, Press and media, ICT, Corporate Development etc”. In other words, it is the back office staff. The money for that is being cut … no wait, it is being increased from £35.18 million to £35.20 million. A tiny increase of only 0.05 percent, to be sure, but an increase nonetheless while the front line policing functions are being cut.

Let me say right away that the local Police here are excellent – and that is precisely why I don’t want our bobbies cut by 7 percent while the back office staff don’t get cut at all.

A further clue as to what is wrong with government in our country can be found on the County Council’s budget page, which has a link to the “Budget 2011-2012 Equality Impact Assessments”.

This page has no less than 120 “Equality Impact Assessment” documents, each of which is a fairly detailed form solemnly filled in, each one supposedly assessing whether one of the cuts being made will hit any particular groups harder than others.

One of them has this:

GET THE DOCUMENT SIGNED OFF BY A DIRECTOR, HAVE IT AVAILABLE ON SHAREPOINT, AND KEEP IT ON FILE AS PART 1 EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT.  COPY IT TO THE EQUALITIES TEAM.

What would the council do, after all, without an Equalities Team to make sure that the services being cut are cut fairly?

This, remember, is in a Conservative controlled council. It really is beyond parody.

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Reforming Local Government is an Obvious Way to Save Money

Eric Pickles
Image via Wikipedia

And Your Next Mission, Mr Pickles, Should You Choose to Accept It…

In the area in which I live, and in many parts of the country, there are three levels of local government.

We have a County Council, whose main responsibility is running the local schools, and also has a number of assorted other responsiblilities.

We have a District Council, which sorts out things like refuse collection (but not disposal – that’s the County Council), planning, housing and a few other assorted bits and pieces.

And we have a Town Council, which covers an area pretty much the same as the District Council, and is responsible for … hardly anything actually. (Maintenance of graveyards and swings seems to be about it.)

Do we really need all those three layers?

It is completely clear to me that the Town Council could be abolished tomorrow and all its few responsibilities transferred to the District Council, with no ill effects whatsoever, except to the staff at the Town Council who would lose their jobs. The Town Council serves absolutely no useful purpose, and the District could easily take on everything it does within a couple of weeks.

Any attempt to abolish these “Town Councils” seems to get bogged down in some irrelevant debate about parish councils, which are legally similar but in practice a very different animal. Parish councils in villages are arguably useful. Town Councils, which often simply duplicate their local District Council, are not.

And then we come to the District and the County. Do we really need both? I believe not not, actually.

This will become especially clear as the government continues steadily converting schools to Academies, which are centrally funded by Whitehall.

The case for merging County Councils and District Councils is not as clear-cut as the compelling case for abolishing Town Councils, but it is still rather hard to argue against.

Of course, the front line staff would all remain in place. But all those administrators, all those HR people, all those clerks and indeed all those unnecessary councillors, could go.

John Major’s government made a half-hearted attempt to carry out this reform. They succeeded in places like West Berkshire, which has been running quite happily with single tier local government for some time now. But in most places their review concluded that “no change” was the best policy. In other words, they bottled out.

In the area in which I lived at the time, two of the local District Councils came up with a plan to merge and take over the responsibilities of the County, but were overruled on the grounds that local people did not support the plan. (Needless to say, the truth is that hardly any local people expressed an opinion either way.)

This is an “easy win” for the government, as it tries to get its finances under control, and the man responsible for this area of policy is one of the government’s most robust and forceful operators, Eric Pickles.

How about it, Eric? Are you up for finishing the job Mr Major started but didn’t have the balls to finish?

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More Piss-Taking from Northamptonshire County Council

This Would be a Great Entry for the Competition

Yes, it was Northamptonshire County Council I was talking about yesterday. The council with money to burn, evidently.

Today I note from their website that they are running a competition.

I’ll let their words speak for themselves:

We value your opinion and want to know how our services have helped you.

Enter our competition by completing the sentence

• ‘My county council…’
and your statement and picture could be printed on our corporate posters.

An example of what your poster could look like (PDF format 335KB)
As a customer focused organisation, we value what you think about our services.

We want to hear how our services have helped you, taught you and generally what they have done for you.

Winners of the competition will have their picture and statement printed on a set of posters which will be distributed around the county to encourage more people to use our services.

The posters will be distributed all around Northamptonshire, including

•Libraries
•One stop shops
•Sports centres
•Theatres
•Country Parks
•Schools
•Parish Councils
•Sure Start and Community Centres
•Registry Offices
•And many more

This is the County Council that in February discussed “cuts to winter gritting, meals on wheels, social care, trading standards and a whole raft of other services” and said in its budget report:

One of the council’s approaches in economically challenging times such as these, must be an emphasis on spending money in a business-like, professional way, and to get value for money in all the council does.

Words fail me.