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100 Ways To Cut Council Tax Without Cutting Key Services?

Councillor Harry Phibbs writes “100 Ways To Cut Council Tax Without Cutting Key Services”.  It’s interesting and thought provoking stuff. Excellent in parts, to my mind it lacks practicality and sense in others.  Get yourself a cup of tea or coffee: this is a long post.

Here are some of his suggestions I agree with:

3. Cut the number of press officers. One rule would be to make sure you have no more than the number of local newspaper reporters. An alternative idea would be to get rid of the press office altogether. Why not just put journalists through to the Leader’s secretary who gives them the number for the relevant councillor?

4. Scrap the council newspaper. Unless, as in the case of my Council, you make it self financing through real, private sector, advertising.

22. Scrap school governor training / “support”. Just puts people off becoming governors with a lot of bureaucratic jargon.

And politically correct brainwashing too.  School governers need to be competent and capable of individual thought, holding staff and pupils to account and doing what is right for the school.

23. Stop spending money on management consultants.

Definitely!  I’ve seen the damage Consultantitis can do.  To bank balances, staff confidence and to smooth performance of duties.  I’d go further and say stop spending money on consultants full stop.

45. Scrap Local Education Authority clerking service for school governor meetings. One of the governors or the head teacher ‘s secretary can take the minutes.

49. Ban mineral water at meetings. Use tap water instead. This has saved us £36,000 a year in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Were Hammersmith and Fulham using their own specially branded water bottles?  £36,000 is a lot of money to be spending on water.

50. Save money on printing. Stop producing glossy brochures. The thicker the paper, the shinier the pages, the brighter the colours the more residents think: “So this is what my Council Tax goes on.” The printing bill for a typical council is literally millions of pounds.

55. Keep a tight grip on spending on agency staff.

Poor management is often the reason behind a large number of agency staff.  I’ve seen the effect a lot of agency staff in one department can have, and much of it is not positive.

65. Freeze councillor allowances.

Councillors need to be seen to be models of honesty, openness and professionalism.  If they are seen as taking advantage of perks then perception of their ability to provide an excellent service is very badly affected.

93. Scrap all “nanny state” posts. “Five a Day” officers, etc.

Why should a council, which is already providing an environmental health and other health related services, have posts like a “Five A Day” officer?

There are some suggestions I don’t agree with and others where the idea is sound but more consideration or decisive action is needed.  An example of the latter is

48. Encourage residents to use the Mail Preference Service which stops addressed junk mail and then saves the cost of disposing of it. Direct Mail “individually addressed advertising messages” accounts for 181,500 tons nationally. Say a largish council has a 1,000 tons of it to dispose of at a cost of £83 a ton. That’s £83,000 a year it spends putting people’s junk mail on landfill.

Great idea but the Mailing Preference Service hasn’t been much help to me in trying to stem the deluge of unsolicited and junk mail to my home.  The Direct Mail industry should be made to pay a substantial donation for the cost of recycling their useless output and be held accountable and chargeable to an independent body for continued sending of junk mail when it has been specifically requested to stop.

And while I’m talking about junk mail, AA Insurance Services are persistent and quite possibly mendacious offenders at this.  Virgin Media are also deserving of a mention in such company; after e-mailing their regional sales manager politely informing him why I want nothing from Virgin Media and asking him to remove my address from their lists I get two more junk mails.

VIRGIN MEDIA AND AA INSURANCE SERVICES ARE ENTRANTS INTO MY HALL OF SHAME

Sorry for the rant but I had to get that off my chest.  Back on topic now.  Three more suggestions where there is potential are:

28. Cancel your annual subscription to the Local Government Association. This is a surprisingly significant sum. My Council pays £48,125.

30. Cancel your membership subs to most other bodies you are members of.

29. Cancel your membership sub to the Local Government Information Unit.

Subscriptions to sector groups are often expensive and do not necessarily provide best value.  They should be critically assessed.

Some of the suggestions I disagree with are:

20. Libraries. Change the rota system to keep them open during lunch hours and also reduce staff numbers at the same time.

71. Open cafes in the corner of libraries where there is some space. This could produce revenue as well as attracting more library users.

89. Where Post Offices are threatened with closure see if there would be space for them to be relocated in a Council library. This would offer an income stream while also saving an important local service for the community

Councillor Phibbs seems to be of the mindset that has no time for library provision.  A library is supposed to be a place of learning, a repository of books and materials for education and reference, somewhere to go and learn in an environment of quiet contemplation.  My local libraries have often been understaffed and turned from a place of learning into a quasi nursery and community centre.  I remember my first reaction upon seeing the inside of a newly refurbished library in Birmingham:  “Where have all the bloody books gone?”

Councillor Phibbs seems to like the idea of stuffing as many things as possible into one space.  The idea of putting cafes and Post Offices in libraries is not at all appealing… “Today is day two of the Sevenoaks Library siege, where an armed gang is holding several pensioners hostage having failed to gain access to the money vault in the Post Office concession”.

Already post offices are now crammed into branches of WHSmith and are as unpleasant places to visit as the provisions they have replaced.  Post Offices are being culled by a “government” desperately trying to find a way out of the depression it has helped to create.  Post Office provision deserves to and should be treated with respect.  By parties from all sides.

If you’re going to run a coffee shop then you need adequate toilet provision.  That’s going to cost.  Let the libraries stick to lending books and providing a community learning resource and let the tea and coffee shops stick to selling drinks.

21. Cut spending on advertising.

Practicality, Harry, practicality.  How do I know what my local council is doing for me if I don’t see things advertised in my local library or commuinity centre?

32. Stop sending people off to conferences. One advantage of not being members of these bodies is that there won’t be the same scope for sending staff off to their events at vast expense.

I’m no fan of staff swanning off to conferences.  A better way to handle this would be to clearly cut down on attendance at such events and after someone has been to a conference, for them to present what they learned and how that can be used to the benefit of the council and the people it serves: ideally before an audience capable of providing a critical analysis.  If there wasn’t any real gain then that conference isn’t attended next year.  Therefore people have to justify the relevance of the conference.

40. Reduce staff training to the statutory minimum.

I don’t think I’d like to work for you Harry, especially if you’re not interested in training your staff so they can improve their performance.  Sometimes I’ve had to fight like mad to get the training courses I needed (and got refused five times for one – even Jesus Christ was only refused thrice by Simon Peter!).  If the training is relevant and needed then it is required.  That is true for all jobs.  How many training courses have you been on Harry?

64. Save money relocating some Council operations to parts of the country where costs are lower. Westminster Council has saved very substantial sums by moving back office processing operations and telephony services which don’t require specialist knowledge. There are now 250-300 staff in Dingwall employed by a company called Vertex working for Westminster Council undertaking a great range of services.

I’m only pro-outsourcing when it works.  In my experience it often fails to work.  I’ve written previously about an experience with a council call centre that was less than satisfactory.  Perception is reality Harry, it may be trite but it’s true.  If I’m dealing with someone who claims to provide local services then finding out they are nowhere near local affects my perception negatively.  You’ve got to be dead right on this call, there’s no room for error whatsoever.

In conclusion, Councillor Phibbs’ initial idea is praiseworthy; there can often be ways of minimising costs.  Some of his suggestions have merit and others have potential.  However, some are lacking in practicality and relevance to the workplace or community.

Published inPolitics