Council facing new round of austerity
150 jobs to be axed
Review of bin collection service
Lollipop patrols could be sponsored
£6.2m investment in new technology
Your views wanted
UP TO 150 people could lose their jobs as the borough council looks to save £19m in a new round of austerity savings.
A meeting of the Council’s Executive last Thusday voted to implement the spending cuts, and bring in a new programme dubbed 21st Century Council.
For services, the plan will see residents using a self-service approach reducing demand and face-to-face interaction with council staff. The first step of this has been taken with the launch of a mobile phone app which enables residents to access services and information.
The borough council says the £6.2m cost of the plan will pay for itself within three years and lead to more effective customer services.
However, the plan also means services will be cut, contracts will be re-negotiated with suppliers, and up to 150 job losses within the council, which it says will save £4.5m a year.
The council said there will be fewer senior and middle managers and one of the directors’ roles will be axed, with the redundancies taking place over the next 18 months. In all, £2.5m has been set aside for severance packages.
The summary presented to the Executive noted: “As far as possible these reductions will be achieved through the existing turnover in the organisation. In addition, for the last eight months all senior and middle management posts have been kept vacant (or filled on an interim basis) unless it was clear that permanent appointments were business critical and would be required in the new model. Directorates have similarly monitored and managed vacancies. As a result redundancies will be kept to a minimum, but provision for the statutory cost of redundancy is proposed.”
The report that the Executive will consider also outlines services where the Council feels it can reduce investment, stop providing altogether, or become self funding. Areas at risk include leisure services including the countryside department, libraries, school support services, bus subsidies and school crossing patrols.
Council leader Cllr Keith Baker guested on BBC Radio Berkshire’s breakfast show last Friday to float the idea of lollipop patrols being sponsored.
He told listeners that he knew some of the proposals would be controversial.
“If that allows us to maintain a service then what is wrong with seeking sponsorship?” he said.
In a briefing last Thursday, Graham Ebers, the Director of Finance and Resources, explained that the council’s sums for the next four years were based on council tax increases of 2% a year and takes into account the complete withdrawal of the Government’s support grant over the next two years, as well as changes to collection of business rates.
“The picture is very bleak, but manageable,” he said. “If we don’t cut we may have more severe cuts to come.”
Andy Couldrick, the borough’s chief executive, said that after already seeing the council’s income squeezed, there was a “need to do something more radical this time”.
The proposed 21st Century Council and the £6.2m investment in modernising the council’s IT infrastructure is part of that, allowing residents to access services remotely and digitally.
“We’re reflecting the way in which life is changing and we’re enhancing the way we do things to generate efficiency savings,” he said.
The plans to change kerbside rubbish collections come out of a need to “save money. We need to think about how we can create sustainable and affordable waste collections.”
Cllr Baker said: “Coupled with the need to fund inflation and the growth in population, which predominantly affects adult social care, children’s services and waste disposal costs, which are partially funded by council tax increases, there is still a budget shortfall. This needs to be met with further savings.”
What happens next?
The Executive approved the plans for 21st Century Council on Thursday. It will now the council would write to the Secretary of State to accept the offer of a four-year settlement instead of annual financial settlement on the proviso that there is no negative revenue support grant (RSG) in 2019/20.
It will immediately start implementing the 21st Century Council plan, to be completed by March 2017.
Work will then start on reducing a £9.7million deficit. The council said that this would be met through various initiatives including closer integration between health and social care; continuing to ensure best value for money from the council’s largest contracts; looking for further opportunities to share services with other councils and to raise and generate income such as through the council’s own companies.
Leader of the council Cllr Keith Baker said: “While taking up the offer of a four-year settlement gives us some financial certainty and some stability, we’re under no illusions and must continue planning to make ourselves even more efficient during this time.
“We would become a leaner, more efficient council costing significantly less to run.
“But I’d like to assure our residents that it would be very much business as usual during the transition. And they should see availability and access to council services improve through digital channels; as well as swifter resolution of issues and queries.”
Have your say on budget plans
Like last year, when the Council also had to find significant savings, it is launching a series of budget consultation events in every corner of the borough.
Residents are invited to come along and hear from senior council staff about the plans and also offer their input on the principles and priorities that will guide how the council spends its money to fund services.
The sessions are planned between Monday, October 17 and Monday, October 31. Each meeting runs from 7pm to 9pm and residents can drop in without booking in advance.
- Monday, October 17: St Mary’s Church Centre, Station Road, Twyford
- Thursday, October 20: Maiden Place Community Centre, off Kilnsea Drive, Lower Earley
- Monday, October 24: The Bradbury Centre, Rose Street, Wokingham
- Tuesday, October 25: Finchampstead Baptist Church, Gorse Ride North, Finchampstead
- Monday, October 31: Waingels College, Waingels Road, Woodley
More details on the Borough Council’s Website.