Posted tagged ‘cuts’

That was the local government week that was

December 2, 2011

What we have been reading

And what a week it’s been.  Up and down the country, local government has been at the centre of the news over the past seven days, with column inches galore debating its merits and the work it does, all through the lens of the ongoing debate over the pension scheme negotiations.  Here are our pick of the blogs which look at things from some rather interesting angles, as well as a few blogs which mention less polarising issues.

We’ll start off with a post from Citizen R on her I Was A Public Sector Worker blog, posted on the day of the strike.  It neatly sets out why one person supported the strikes, even though they were no longer part of the public sector, showing how deeply many feel about the issues.

I’ve mentioned before that when I went into the public sector it wasn’t for the pensions or the perks or even the holidays. I wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in children’s lives. I felt I could best do this in the state sector.  As a new teacher of 22 I didn’t care about a pension because it felt like retirement was a million years away (it still is now that the age of retirement is getting higher and higher) and took a big chunk of my wage each month that might be better spent on having fun.

But now after a whole career spent in the public sector I’ve been left high and dry. I don’t pay into a government pension any more because that jo has gone and I have no job to strike from today. But the public sector is where my heart lies so I’m with everyone who strikes today. Good luck and maybe just maybe the government will listen for once.

It’s with mixed feelings of joy and disbelief that we unfortunately get to read a new post from the simply superb Redundant Public Servant (if you don’t know why we rate him so highly then you’ve never read his blog – so do it now!).  Joy because we loved reading his brilliantly crafted and bewilderingly regular posts detailing his own battles around his impending redundancy, disbelief because it looks like he may be going through it all again.  In this guest piece for Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog he points out some of the incredible numbers being thrown around. (more…)

Politically protecting the vulnerable

October 12, 2011

Good point well made

As regular readers of this blog will know we have got ourselves into a fair bit of trouble when discussing libraries. So, before I continue please let me state that I actually like and value libraries. I think that local government should continue to provide them and I fully recognise that they are a valuable community resource.

However, when discussing libraries I have always said that they should be considered in context alongside the other council services that are also affected. I was therefore fascinated to come across a short article on the Guardian Social Care network where the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Kevin Mitchell, discussed the public reaction to the cuts being made in his county.

After explaining the parlous state of his budget (he needs to find £119m out of £500m; roughly 24%) he goes on to explain the public reaction to his proposals:

We have taken the decision to ring fence two areas of spending: social care for vulnerable children and our fire and rescue service. We took the view that other service areas should take a proportionate share of the cuts.

When we presented our plans for implementing this decision, our electorate could see that we were proposing over four years to cut social care spending by £31m, highways spending by £13m, waste management by £4m and library services by £2m.

Given the scale of the planned cuts, you might expect a caring population to express anger about cuts to care for older people, about the impact of cuts on the highway network and congestion and about the impact of cuts on recycling. None of these concerns materialised to any significant extent.

The single area of huge campaigning activity was our library service. Residents rose up in our city, towns and villages to demand that we keep all of our 43 libraries open.

This is very similar to the situation in Gloucestershire where libraries were substantially cut because the council pledged to protect

  • Care of older people
  • Care for vulnerable adults
  • Child protection and care for vulnerable children
  • Fire & Rescue
  • Supporting thousands of voluntary carers

They therefore ended up making proportionately higher cuts to their library services.

Taken together these examples, and many more from places we actually work, lead us to ask some difficult questions. The biggest of these relates to how local democracy can adequately protect the most vulnerable in society when because of their small numbers they are unable to shout the loudest?

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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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Finding savings… the easy way

June 30, 2011

There are only so many cuts you can make before you do serious damage!

As councils move towards the year two savings mandated by the coalition Government the pressure to find ‘easy’ savings to eat into the huge cuts targets only grows.

By and large councils have made the cuts to ‘non-crucial’ services and reduced staffing levels in the back office functions. They’ve found savings from investment and offered voluntary redundancy to anyone who wants it. Council’s have innovated in service design and reduced management. And still the savings won’t be enough.

What’s left then are very difficult cuts to valuable frontline services. Do we take money from street cleaning or libraries, reduce the social care budgets for children or adults, take chunks out of transport or homelessness?

Which is why some councils are considering making big supposedly ‘straightforward’ savings by means of changes to terms and conditions of their staff.

I’ve asked around the WLLG network to get a sense of where we are right now around the country and whilst the picture in my (admittedly small) sample varied a bit invariably the changes to Ts and Cs, where known, are going to be huge.

Amongst the options that most people were facing the archetypal package seems to be something like: (percentage reduction in staff spending power in brackets)

  • No pay increments for the next three years (2% for staff receiving them)
  • A reduction in pay of 1% – 3%
  • A period of mandatory unpaid leave; varying from 3 days to one or two weeks (0.86%, 2% or 4%)
  • A reduction in annual leave down to 26 days for all staff (those with five years’ service currently get 31)
  • An increase in hours from 35 to 36 or 37.5
  • A reduction in sick pay so that the first three days of any period of sickness need to be paid back (either by working the hours or actually paying back the money)

There was also some changes to overtime etc

Three things sprang to mind:

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The politics of an ever decreasing budget

June 9, 2011

But the worst is still to come

Prior to the local government elections in May there was a popular conceit running around the British press. This went something along the lines of:

‘Members of the public will only really get their head around the cuts once they start to really hit in April 2011.’

This in turn led to the general sense that the Government had survived the worst of the ‘cuts backlash’ when they, or at least the Conservative Party, got through the local elections unscathed. The commentators were, in this case, wrong.

I don’t want to argue that the cuts have not come. There have been cuts, and in some places the cuts have been quite heavy. I talk to colleagues/friends in the third sector who have seen quite large cuts in funding and some councils have been quite vocal about the cuts they need to make.

However, the cuts in April 2011 were in many ways just a prelude to what is yet to come. The reasons are multiple but most of it has to do with the way the local government budget works and the way the cuts were structured.

The announcement of the cuts was not made until October 2011.

This left local authorities less than three or four months to put their budget in place. Some had been prepared for the scale of the cuts but most of them were surprised by the front loading and the depth of the cuts in years one and two.

So what did some councils do?

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Promises promises, and of course some mindless retribution

June 6, 2011

In the past?

We tend, on this blog, not to write posts about social work despite it making up a sizable chunk of the budgets of the councils we work for. This is for a simple reason; none of us are social workers and the work they do is incredibly skilled and complicated.

This post is a rare exception but nothing in it should be taken as claiming any sort of social work expertise. (Incidentally, if you are looking for a blog with that sort of knowledge check out fighting monsters).

As many of you will be aware last week was a pretty big one for adult social care and the mainstream news with both the Southern Cross affair and the Panorama expose of Winterbourne View in the news.

Naturally, as this unpleasantness unfolded everyone looked to the Government; would they look to ‘bail out’ Southern Cross and what would they do about Winterbourne View?

I missed the Sunday morning TV shows but found a summary of the Government’s official response, courtesy of Paul Burstow MP, to Winterbourne View on the BBC website. The bits of the story that are direct quotes are as follows:

“It comes as a surprise to people that the statutory basis for the safeguarding of vulnerable adults in this country is much weaker than that which exists for children.

“I’m committed to follow through on some recommendations we have received recently from the Law Commission to implement statutory safeguarding rules that will require the police the NHS, social services to work together.”

and

Mr Burstow told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that he did believe the chief executive of the CQC, Cynthia Bower, should resign over the failures.

This made me a little grumpy and here’s why: (more…)

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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Why a bleeding stump might be a good thing

March 22, 2011

Is this too gruesome for a family blog?

Two weeks ago Eric Pickles launched into one of his ‘astonishing attacks’ on local government that on further inspection consists of a good sound bite for the papers within a more general speech. Too much detail to back up his claims would make it easier for others to disagree and as we’ve argued that’s not Mr Pickle’s role in the DCLG.

Anyway, in this speech Mr Pickles said:

But unlike Neil Kinnock, Ed Miliband is too weak to take on his unions and his militant council leaders.

He won’t stand up to his councillors and their “bleeding stump” strategy.

A man who can’t even lead his party, can’t expect to lead his country.

So the ‘bleeding stump’ of the weekend’s press was merely an attack on Ed Miliband. Which is fine but not really the place for this blog.

However, it got me thinking: might the ‘bleeding stump’ policy actually be a good thing?

Please, before throwing your latest supply of Eric Pickle’s pies in the direction of WLLG towers, do hear me out.

My assumption is that a ‘bleeding stump’ strategy is actually a ‘decision’ strategy. Local authorities who follow this approach make (possibly rational) decisions about whether or not they can support all their services, prioritising those that they want to continue with and regrettably closing those which they can no longer support.

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At the whim of our political masters

March 16, 2011

I like the DCLG and I like local government. But which is better? There's only one way to find out....

Delicious!

Sometimes we learn a new use for a word and then spend the next three weeks trying to find a use for it and sometimes it just falls into a our lap.

However, this time I heard the use at the weekend and by Monday had a reason to use it; this blog from the people at political scrapbook is delicious.

Basically, the bloggers at political scrapbook have taken Mr Pickles to task for his constant attack on local government non-jobs. Amongst their observations are:

Pickles’ glass-and-steel Department for Communities and Local Government employs no less than 2,100 staff, not one of which can be described as a front line role .

You see your attack on non-jobs Mr Pickles? Bang, have one back!

Other members of Pickle’s senior team include the Deputy Director for the Big Society, who adds value by “leading on the corporate secretariat and performance”.

Want to attack specific non-jobs in Manchester? Well, here have some of your own medicine!

Overall, Pickles has 111 Directors and Deputy Directors, all on £65K+ and many of them earning far more than the PM.

Overpaid Local Government fatcats eh? Well, let’s take your 111 senior managers and smoke it!

(apparently this number earning more than the PM is actually 2 so there was some editorialising going on here)

This is all fair game right?

As I see it the political scrapbook is just doing to the DCLG what the Department for Criticising Local Government has done to local councils up and down the country.

Just like the DCLG ministers the political scrapbook people have distorted some basic facts to make their point. Mr Pickles et al criticise local government staff and we fight back by picking on the civil servants at the DCLG.

All is fair in love and war right? Plus, he started it!?

Well, not quite…

(more…)