Last week I had a couple of Scrutiny meetings - one on financing climate change measures - well our report is nearly out so I wont cover that here - the other was the evening Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee and a look at the budget.
Photo: Ebley Mill viewed through trees from Randwick
Well again I can't cover all that here but several key issues I raised are covered below. I also sought information on the savings from posts not being filled - this can have a huge impact on remaining staff workloads and I am already aware that some have very high workloads. Many other issues were covered including news that Iceland money may not come back although the Cabinet member remains 'cautiously optimistic'.
Money for household energy efficiency and climate change
I made the point that this was welcomed as one of the only growth areas however it is small fry - just £100,000 next year with no more for the next 5 years! How can this possibly tackle the huge and growing problem of fuel poverty.
Many in the chamber were sympathetic but no more money available. I hope when the initial recommendations of the Scrutiny inquiry come to light we will be able to tackle this issue more. We must find a way forward - indeed had a useful discussion last week about what the blocks are to borrowing money to pay for such measures - pretty well none was the answer - in my view we need to move towards developing the Council's own renewable energy through an ESCo - borrowing then in some years we would have an income stream. It makes economic, environmental and moral sense......
Disabled facilities grants
The situation is getting worse - 12 to 15 month waiting lists for disabled people and longer waits forecast. This is not acceptable - nobody in the chamber was happy about it. SDC already work in partnership with Occupational Therapists, but I asked whether more could be done? It was a gloomy picture as even with more money the contractor could not take on more work. I still think we need to look at alternatives and will be asking more re this.
Joint Use centres to close?
On 30th November Stroud District Council issued a press release. In it the Council's Deputy Leader, Councillor Keith Pearson, is quoted as saying: "It is regrettable that we have to look at reducing the number of sports centres we manage but the bare facts show that not enough people use them. We have to be responsible with how we spend taxpayers' money and councils are under more and more pressure to show value for money".
At the 10 December 2009 Cabinet meeting. Agenda Item 10 titled, 'The General Fund Revenue Budget 2010/2011' states in paragraph 6 said: “This efficiency process ( the Medium Term Financial Plan) has included a decision to hand back two joint use sites namely Vale of Berkeley College, Nailsworth Primary School and Wotton Pool, the savings from which will be realised in the 2011/2012 budget”.
But now a consultation has been launched and we are having a special cabinet meeting on 28th Jan to discuss this ‘consultation’. I asked about why can we not have greater clarity of process here? It would appear that these proposals just came out of nowhere with no consultation? How fair is it to cut service from 3 centres without discussing it fully with local people?
As I have noted before there appears to be no strategic plan for leisure services (see here). This appears to be just cost-cutting without proper consideration. It is claimed that services are not providing ‘value’ so plans are made to cut the service rather than evaluating what value is and how we might seek it. This is not in my view the way to go about business. However I am encouraged that a more proper consultation has now been launched - however it still looks likely to lead to closure of some or all of the six joint use centres.
I recognise savings need to be made but as the Mayor of Nailsworth, Norman Kay points out in his report looking specifically at the centre in Nailsworth: "A 'reasonable' local authority would be expected to use such evidence, together with an assessment of resources available, to devise a comprehensive vision and plan for the Leisure Service, which addresses these considerations within the plan...SDC may, having done this, still decide on withdrawing from the NRC, but importantly, the decision would be based on evidence which could be used to demonstrate the comprehensiveness and efficiency of the service provided by reference to demonstrable need and resources...Financial savings may still be made, but the absence of a review of the Leisure Service, and the Council's apparent interpretation of an 'efficient' service as being entirely in financial terms, has appeared to rule out any meaningful discussions of other options....Service operation is limited from the information on the Council's website. It seems to have been underpublicised for some time. It is sensible for a Leisure Service to promote and encourage use. It is good practice for any public service to encourage participation through clear and easy ways to join, access, shape and influence the service....Service Delivery - Usage and Capacity. No evidence was put before Cabinet members to show what (if any) information the Council considered regarding usage patterns, or whether any other evidence was drawn on to guide the decision on withdrawing from the provision of the service at the NRC....Satisfaction with the service and links with other services/partners. There is no information on the satisfaction of users and ways in which the NRC facilities have been promoted to potential users, through for example, corporate membership for local employers; or how the Council is assisting/enabling the National Health Service through the PCT to obtain maximum benefit for its clients....The absence of a strategic plan or a development plan for the Leisure service, based on an assessment of need and a contemporaneous review of the service, completely hinders the Council being able to describe how its plans will meet the needs of, and have due regard for, the exercise and sports needs of those who live and work in Nailsworth."
I understand a large report will soon be available to those on request that hopefully will answer some of the concerns re lack of strategy. I await with interest.