Posted tagged ‘budget’

Budget takeaways

March 22, 2012

More nutritious than the budget?

People far cleverer than us were making their pronouncements on yesterday’s budget almost as soon as it had left George Osborne’s red box. We were never going to match that so instead have produced our budget takeaways:

False promise of the day:

The Chancellor announced that he wants a ‘simpler tax system where people understand what they need to pay’… Perhaps he was going to announce a bold new proposal for the design of local taxes that links payment locally to service delivery? Nope, he just meant publishing a pie chart similar to the ones in local government council tax bills… At least we’re trailblazers right?

Sort of good news announcement of the day:

From the LGIU:

The Government will provide £30 million to local authorities in England towards the transitional costs to new local support schemes for council tax’

But won’t provide more money to meet, you know, the benefits that are being cut. Helpful for local government; no respite for the people who are about to lose their benefit.

Unfathomable thought of the day

Did we just witness a budget where the individual in my council who benefited the most from it was my Chief Executive? Really? No, really?

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There’s nothing as bad as an underspend

February 7, 2012

Spend it, spend it now!

Being a ‘budget manager’ in local government can be a tough job. Some managers just have a few staff to look after and the budget is quite easy. However, at the other end of the spectrum some managers can have incredibly complicated budgets involving contracts, equipment, staff and innumerable other things to consider.

What makes the job even harder is that each manager has to predict at the start of each year how much they are going to spend and getting it wrong can have large consequences.

What confuses some people, including many of those I work for, is that under-spending that budget is just as bad as overspending it.

It is fairly easy to get your head around why an over-spend might be bad thing. The council would have to find money from its reserves or make further cuts to other services to make up for the extra money that you have spent. This would also have an impact on the budgets for the next year and generally put the council in a tricky situation.

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Understanding the Local Government budget cuts

September 28, 2011

When £10 million isn't 10 million pounds...

A little while ago one of my colleagues wrote a piece detailing how the ‘feared’ cuts of April 2011 were in reality just the calm before the storm. They briefly explained how local authorities had dealt with the budget cuts in a very short period of time:

Well, some of them looked at what they could do in a few months and made some small cuts around the edges. Others looked at small financial adjustments they could make which could keep them going for a year. Some found ‘underspends’ to roll over whilst others just dived into their reserves to make ends meet from 2010/11 to 2011/12.

This is evidence, if ever it was needed, that the local government budget process is pretty complicated. This was further brought home to me last week when the estimable Simon Parker of the NLGN reported from the Lib Dem Conference that:

Turns out LibDems aren’t all that passionate about #localgov – but MPs in denial – one said cuts ‘not draconian.

Not draconian? Surely they missed the memo?

Well, either that or they simply don’t quite understand the local government budget.

The budget in my local authority is roughly (and all numbers here are rough as the budget process is way above my pay grade) £140 million and we’re being asked to find something like £50 million savings over the next four years. The assumption you might make is that the council’s budget in 2015 would be just £90 million.

Unfortunately, this is totally incorrect. Our budget in 2015 will probably end up being something like £130 million. You might then assume that this is a cut of just £10 million and something that our Lib Dem friends would easily describe as ‘not draconian’. Again, you’d be wrong.

So why the discrepancy?

Because life isn’t static and nor is the council budget.

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Libraries, raised tempers and Gloucestershire County Council

August 22, 2011

Shhh; no arguing in the library

As regular readers of this blog will know we like starting debates and we even like criticism. In fact we recently wrote a post dedicated to the well thought through and constructive criticism we have received from various people who read our blog. We write the blog in good faith and welcome people with an interest in local government to join the debate; whether they agree with us or not.

I mention this because the post written by one of my colleagues last Thursday generated the sort of comment we’ve never seen before.

For those who missed it the WLLG blogger argued that there needed be a real debate about libraries and suggested that:

Those who think we can abolish libraries and move to kindles or book share only (I’ve heard it said) are as mistaken as those that think we can simply protect the porta-cabin library in each village and change nothing; which of course isn’t to say that in some locations a porta cabin village library might not be appropriate. However, if we meet in the middle we’ll be able to find solutions that meet all needs and that might just involve book share, libraries in supermarkets, kindles, web services, part time libraries, flexible public spaces, mobile libraries, traditional library buildings and everything in between.

But that’s not, I think, what annoyed people. He then took a brief detour into the world of judicial reviews and argued:

Despite this I would still disagree with the judicial review. The cuts being made by local authorities are next to impossible and if every small group is able to go to high court to challenge the change it will be impossible to do anything at all. I don’t therefore disagree with any of the individual judgments as such; just the principle of it.

The readers of our blog took offence at his reference to them as being ‘small’ and seemed to forget that his argument was not against any individual judgement but more about the principles of judicial reviews.

Nonetheless, the response to his flippant reference to these groups as small (probably a little unwise), both on the blog and on twitter, was unusually angry.

My favourite was the author who said:

I doubt if the people running this blog are representative of local government officers. I suspect it to be the creation of some young men and women in a hurry to get to the top, who think closing some libraries will look good on their cvs.

And the tweeter who suggested:

‘wonder if someone’s stirring the pot so’s to divide & rule’

However, amongst the odd vitriolic comments (from both sides) there were some really passionate responses, particularly from authors who are campaigning in Gloucestershire. In particular, it is worth reading this from Demelza who argued:

I, and many others in Gloucestershire, don’t believe the administration should be able to get away with this, and having exhausted all other avenues, supporting the JR seemed the only option – nor a decision that was taken lightly. It has been extremely stressful and time-consuming dealing with all the media attention and debate and criticism that has come from this, and no small feat to try and raise the many thousands of pounds required by the Legal Sevices Commission as ‘community contribution’ towards the costs of the case.

I believe, in principal, that JRs shouldn’t be necessary, and that councillors should respond and reflect the needs/concerns of their tax payers/electorate, and should not embark on plans where their are clear concerns, from several sources, of illegality. Clearly though this has not been happening in Gloucestershire with regard to the library cuts.

The response from Johanna also included a link to her piece detailing the library changes which is worth checking out.

With this in mind, and recognising that we try not to comment on individual local authorities but instead focus on principles and sector wide issues I decided to do some reading. What I found is a complex picture of an authority struggling to make huge budget cuts, a library service facing HUGE cuts and a community that didn’t feel listened to despite the councils attempts at a widespread consultation. In other words it shows some of the best and worst of the problems facing the whole of the sector right now.

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The first cut is the deepest, but the second will hurt more

April 15, 2011

Another phrase to be banned

On Twitter during the week we had a discussion about the jargon and phrases that local government officers use on a regular basis, and those which the LGA feel should be on their ‘banned’ list.  Some, such as ‘engagement’ and ‘consultation’ are themselves not bad words, although the context they are used in often confuses their meaning.

Others however have a deserving place on the list.  Phrases such as ‘citizen touchpoints’ and ‘thought shower’ have no place in the normal world, and certainly not when talking with local people.  Jargon has its uses; it can convey complex issues quickly and easily between those who understand what it means, but it can also seriously exclude those who are unfamiliar with it (assuming that is that ‘exclude’ isn’t itself a banned word).

A new phrase seems to be entering the office at the moment which I think should be added to that list; ‘cash envelope’.  Pictures of seedy men in raincoats leaving packages of used bills behind public toilet cisterns instantly spring to mind for some reason, when instead nothing sexier than balance sheets and budget books is being discussed.  Apparently services are all trying to ‘push the cash envelope’ to gather as much money to them as possible in the short term in order to store it away for the long term; like a squirrel burying nuts in the autumn, the idea is that when more painful cuts are to be made in the next financial year there will at least be something left to cut.

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Schapp Attack

January 11, 2011

Is he really helping here?

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about Councils using stealth taxes and raising charges in order to pay for the salaries of their Chief Execs and other senior managers.  Normally I would ignore such things as the tripe that they are, but over the weekend and the beginning of this week some fairly big names have waded into the debate.

On Monday I heard Grant Shapps discussing this on BBC London, and listened to him trot out this and other lines such as how local authorities should need to do nothing more than a bit of restructuring to save the 4.5%.  He happily glossed over the fact that many Councils are facing a cut of much more than this, with some having to make 8.9% this year and then keep on cutting until they’ve saved over 25% over the next few years.

He then spouted the old faithful: “how many chief execs earn more than the Prime Minister”.  We’ve spoken about this ridiculous argument before, but it seems to be the default position when it comes to anything to do with money and local authorities.  This arbitrarily set wannabe high-water mark should be something that the Daily Express came up with and championed, but instead it appears to have gained traction with the impressionable masses.

The trouble with all of this talk is that it paints local government in a universally bad light.  Central government seems to be positioning itself to blame local government should anything go wrong, and in examining the pay of a handful of executives has a quick and easy tag line to stand behind.  They ignore the fact that even if these execs went down to a fraction of what they earned, this still wouldn’t even make a dent in the amount that has to be saved and would be nothing more than a political statement.

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20/10 Vision

October 19, 2010

Can we really look to the future when most of us are more short sighted?

I sat down at my keyboard today and very quickly became confused.  Nothing to do with the constant switch between Firefox or IE8 (which I use at home and everywhere else) and IE6 (which I am still forced to use at work despite it being nine years old); no, this confusion was down to the content of this post.

Part of me wanted to write about a couple of interesting little things which have happened around the office; the return of a significant colleague to the team after a secondment, the development of a very interesting programme here, a crazy conversation overheard in the toilets involving a gun (I kid you not).

Another part of me wanted to comment on the major, major changes that will be happening in just a few days, thanks to the Comprehensive Spending Review.  Or perhaps about the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, which to all intents and purposes is less of a bonfire and more of a spreading of the ashes.

Then I realised that this confusion is actually symptomatic of local government at the minute.  We are being encouraged to keep focussed on the little things and keep working hard, whilst being aware of (but ignoring to some extent) the fact that 20,000 quango staff and Osbourne only knows how many colleagues will potentially be out of work. (more…)


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