22 Jul 2010

What will cuts mean to Stroud District Council?

Thursday night was Full Council - got there before 6pm and wasn't home till 10.30 ish - only a couple of items of any real interest - the Sustainable Communities Strategy which is all apple pie and wonderfulness - nothing to disagree but nothing in terms of actual plans - yet another of those strategies that we hope wont collect dust on some shelf. Infact it could have been better re closing gap between rich and poor and around peak oil and energy security.

The other item was the Coalition Government's plans for cuts - also below are bits re Green party questions to Council and councillors allowances...

The Programme for Government was presented by the Chief Executive - the Council has trawled through the 31 subjects in A-Z format (Banking to Universities) from the Coalition. They found around 95 actions that directly concern local government and have started to consider the impact. Of course much of what we need to know will not be made clear until October so this is just the first phase...

Overall the agenda of the Coalition is about:
• Decentralised, locally driven
• Removal of national inspection and regional direction
• New transparency requirements

Although as some have pointed out it seems to be about giving powers to Councils to make the cuts - so deflecting criticism - not a view I wholly share as local Councils are in the best place to make those cuts - of course I'm not sure they are necessary - see my letter re the budget here and Green party budget comment locally here.

Going, Going, Gone........

That was how the chief Exec started off looking at a list of items already abolished or planned to be soon. They include:

• Regional Spatial Strategy: no one seems clear what this might mean - could it even mean more houses for Stroud District - I was perhaps optimistic with about what the coalition was saying initially - I am now getting increasingly concerned.
• Regional Assembly funding
• Standards Board for England
• Tenant Services Authority
• ‘Ring fencing’ of grants removed
• Housing and Planning Delivery Grant
• Local Authority Business Grant Initiative: this will be a significant loss to Stroud.
• Future Jobs Fund ‘frozen’: that means the loss of the Backing Young Britain scheme - Stroud was the first Council to sign up to this measure - very disappointing to see it cut
• Comprehensive Area Assessment & Use of Resources
• Infrastructure Planning Commission
• County Sports Partnerships funding
• Free Swimming: Stops at end of month - Stroud are offering I think 20% discount for August if over 60s buy an annual pass and a month free if they pay by Direct Debit.
• Regional Development Agency (to be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships)
• No separate charging for refuse
• Local Area Agreement reward grant cut by 50%
• Transparency–byJan2011all contracts/tenders and spending items over £500 to be on line

Also likely to impact but still awaiting decisions are:

• Fair Pay Review – Will Hutton
• Pensions Review – John Hutton
• Housing Subsidy Review
• Government Offices in the regions
• Planning policy on development
• Future of various quangos
• White Paper on Health Services – public health, health scrutiny

The Emergency Budget

• Pre-Budget saw £6bn in immediate savings for 2010/11 – about 20% of this cut from local government but not Stroud in that round - infact Gloucestershire has already made £6.5m cuts.
• Effect of overall 25% Departmental Expenditure Limit reductions 2010-15(Budget Red Book) on specific areas – suggested 30% for non-priority areas but few details - some commentators are saying it could be as much as 40% cuts
• Public and public employees invited to suggest savings and efficiencies
• Council Tax freeze
• Pay freeze for 2 years for public sector employees earning more than £21,000 (under £21,000 will receive minimum £250 pa): of course they can't insist on this but clearly the call adds pressure to decisions taken locally.
• Comprehensive Spending Review – 20th October 2010 - that's the key date and then I suppose it takes time to absorb what it all means.

How will this all impact?

• On our funding partners e.g.College, Homes and Communities Agency
• On local government and public services in Gloucestershire
• On our Medium Term Financial Plan (our plan already assumes 5% year on year reduction in government grant i.e. 15% over three years). Clearly we might have to double or more these cut backs.

What new demands on the District Council will these other cuts mean?

• ‘Community run’ local facilities maybe possible - I am aware that in Nailsworth plans are being put together re the community facilities there.
• Public expectations – our role as ‘cuts’ by others affect the community
• Demonstrate greater productivity
• Demonstrate value for money across organisations – Total Place or its successor

Our focus?

• Clarity about housing finance, capital investment by others
• Intelligence about, and implications of, other public sector cuts
• Efficiencies and Budget Cuts – must deliver
• Review Medium Term Financial Plan
• Deliver Workforce Plan and keep under review

David Hagg, Chief Executive made a statement a couple of weeks ago regarding Stroud Life saying that Chief Executive David Hagg has given assurances that no jobs would be lost: "I have said at Cabinet and Scrutiny meetings and at Proud of Stroud sessions that we are planning to reduce the workforce by 10% over 4 years, in line with our current medium term financial plan. We will consider this again after the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review is published on 20th October."

Indeed current plans mean 45 people will be lost from Stroud District Council over 4 years - hopefully all by retirement etc. But we can't be certain.

Councillor allowances?

Also on the agenda we had the councillors allowances paper - oh dear - there must be a better way to do it than this - councillors talked and talked - anyhow the Independent Panel makes recommendations which we then vote on. The measures for councillors to have their own PCs and cuts to our allowances for Broadband etc mean a £70,000 saving over 3 years. This meant effectively a small cut.

Labour put forward a motion to cut all councillor allowances by a further 10%. I did support but there were only a handful supporting and I have to say I wasn't happy in the way it was brought forward - yes there is poss room to look at cutting some allowances - ordinary councillors now get £4,616 per year and have to pay for broadband, telephones, printing etc. plus any meetings outside the official Council meetings.

However if we cut too much it will stop councillors from coming forward to do the job - or rather only those ones with private income will come forward - in some ways there already is a skew towards that....it does exclude others from participating. In terms of hours a week for that allowance - there are some councillors who appear to do the minimum while others who will put in many hours each week - certainly my average week of Council and community groups is rarely under 25 hours.

Greens have repeatedly tried to have cuts to the travel allowances that mean the bigger your car the more you get - up to 65p a mile!!! As I've said before councillors should be reimbursed for key expenses otherwise we will further limit who is able to stand as a councillor, but the huge car mileage rate is excessive. I refuse to claim that - and instead claim 40p but don't claim all. 25p a mile is what some experts claim it costs to run a car you have anyway. Cuts to mileage allowance make sense. To me it would also be better to seek advice from the Independent Panel about how any further savings could be made. I also think this motion seemed more about gaining political points - if there had been a real attempt to make changes then surely it would be better to talk to other councillors and gain support rather than just springing it at the Full Council. But hey I'm too tired to write all this now - must to bed! But first those questions...

Green Questions to Council

Well Greens had all 4 questions - the first about Climate change and what the council is doing, the second seeking a report from GCC pensions - remember they are the ones who support smoking - see previous blog here (report will come to next Council.

Third was "Given that at least two of the submissions for the ISDS (Invitation to submit detailed solutions) part of GCC PFI Residual Waste tender process are 'Energy from Waste' that is single mass burn incineration, this means it is no longer hypothetical that there will be an incinerator at use Javelin Park. What response to GCC will this council make if Single Mass Burn Incineration is chosen as the residual waste technology?" The Council agreed it did not support mass burn but then seemed to say they would go along if the county chose it. Bad news.

Lastly John Marjoram asked about saving the Magistrates Court in Stroud - a very positive response from Frances Roden saying they will research the case - she noted many points in favour of this local resource. Let's hope this madness can be stopped.

1 comment:

Philip Booth said...

Some of the UK's poorest families have been hit by more than 100 unfair spending cuts during the first 100 days of the new Government,
a TUC analysis of departmental spending reveals today. http://www.tuc.org.uk/newsroom/tuc-18360-f0.cfm