Tuesday, 25 November 2008

COUNCIL SERVICES TO BE HIT BY CUTS


Over the next two years Council Services will be hit by at least £12 million worth of cuts, after finance chiefs failed to hit budget targets. The current budget contained plans to find £11.2 million worth of efficiency savings from the community services directorate, over three years, including £3.5 million this year. The controversial cuts had included, shutting Dimensions splash pool, closing under used park bowling greens, axing one of the two mobile libraries, and reviewing the city's community centres. Now, only six months into the three year strategy, officers have admitted they cannot find this year's savings. They told the Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, that additional pressures such as the new equal pay scheme, and higher fuel, meant they are another £900,000 off budget. Council Officer, Kerry Cartlidge said that £12.1 million in savings must now be found by April 2011. She told the Committee that potential targets had been found, but did not say which services would be affected.
Committee Vice Chair Randy Conteh, said he did not believe Councillors would support the cuts.
Councillor John Daniels said members would have to do what was needed to balance the budget.
The total Council Budget for 2008/09 was £193 million. The savings targets are set by the Government, and if the Council fails to meet them, the Authority's rating by the Audit Commission could be affected.
Peter Kent-Baguley (Potteries Alliance), blamed unrealistic promises of low council tax rises, for the problems. He was of the opinion that the council needs to explain to the public, exactly why council tax has to go up, more than the rate of inflation. He said it was short changing the public.
Elected Mayor Mark Meredith said that Senior Members and Officers would work together to ensure we deliver all of the savings in the budget.
One of the proposed cutbacks in this years budget involved the City Farm Site, in Bucknall. The plan was to either shut it, or let a community group take it over. The members of the Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee strongly opposed these plans. They called for increased funding, to transform the farm into a thriving attraction. Debbie Gratton, Portfolio Holder for Sports and Leisure, confimed that the Authority, was no longer looking to make any cutbacks at the City Farm.
The review of the proposed savings from community services budget is expected to finish in the New Year, when the findings will be reported back to the Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
How I see it, is, that if the Council raises the Council Tax, the public complains, but if the Council Tax is kept low, and they start to cut services, the public complains, they can't win on this one. What services do you think should be cut back to save money? Give us your views.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Like you say, a no win situation. If the council raises council tax then people complain, and if they try and keep the rise to a minimum, services are cut and people complain. This is the same scenario at national level. The problem is caused by an every man for himself culture that has always been around in England (not so much in Scotland) and became socially acceptable in the 80s.

Former Town Clerk's Dept said...

This is where participatory budgeting is so important and we go back to the same old issue of engagement. Why doesn't Pits'n'Pots try to collect all of its views expressed on here and feed them into the budget setting process? Surely we can come up with something constructive that gives us a say in the delivery of our own services?

Ian Norris said...

You might want to ask Cll Debbra Gratton, if the threat to Finney Gardens has been scrapped. Why is progressive on saving for Finney Gardens still being reported as UNDER REVIEW to Cllrs tomorrow, is this another Dimensions where Cllrs believe what officers say and not read the reports themselves?

Anonymous said...

As interesting as the facts reported is the fact that The Sentinel appear to have discovered a crystal ball somewhere in Hanley.

The report describes a meeting which actually is due to take place on Thursday. Obviously, the reporter has just seen the agenda and phoned a few of the likely suspects for a comment.

I wonder how the Sentinel are going to report the meeting when it has actually taken place.

Cinderella said...

"We moved from a one star council last year to a three star 'improving well' this year.(Mark Meredith) Liar.

"This year we aim to keep council tax as low as possible while at the same time improving services we deliver. This year we aim to deliver an inflation only increase of 2.7%. This will be one of the lowest in the Country"(Mark Meredith).Economically illiterate or been shafted by Officers?

Has the Icelandic Bank caused this?
I think we should be told.

Shaun Bennett said...

Of course, service cuts are always worrying, and it will depend on exactly what sort of cuts we are going to see. However, in principle, I don't think that we should be quick to condemn the cuts out of hand.

I was saying only a few weeks ago on this site when we were debating party policies that I thought we needed to see a programme of short-medium term cuts. However, these cuts need to be restricted to waste as much as possible and should then be restricted to non-essential services where services need to be cut.

If these cuts are going to be the first building block of a complete reform of city council thinking, then we should warmly welcome and embrace them. But the council needs to focus the saved money on essential services so that we can create a first class service in those areas. If all goes well, then in years to come, perhaps thaey can then think about what else the council can provide-or perhaps we can finally give city taxpayers some of their hard-earned money back!

That's what I'd LIKE to see happen, and perhaps that is the council's plan. If however, we are just going to see cuts accross the board to the detriment of essential services to dig the council out of a hole in the short-term; if there is no accompanying change of philosophy at the same time and if in years to come the council just re-engages in a programme of 'big government' and 'reckless spending' then we will have wasted an opportunity for the future.

It'll be interesting to see what the council's strategy is...but I do find it hard to believe that the necessary changes can be enforced by the present administration (councillors AND officers) without change there first.

Ian Norris said...

Anonymous: The Budget Group actually meet yesterday 24th Nov, with the Chair of community services invited and hopefully the Vice-Chair. Tomorrow the chair will put forward the out come of that meeting in more detail. Tomrrows report is merely recommended to be NOTED hopefully out Cllrs will make some recommendations, esp as they seem against cuts to Finney Gardens yet that is still UNDER review in tomorrows meeting.

terry turbo said...

As me and Craig have been saying for months, people should take the time to study the Audit report, that the City Council tried so hard to stop the citizens of this city from seeing, so much so that it is now in the hands of the Audit commissioner, and is over a month behind in being closed.
Steve Robinson bailed out before the audit report, then Julie Gill bailed out at a meeting we forced on the Audit committee at a meeting on the 23rd october.
We have released on pitsnpots some of the details of waste within the city council.
There are glaring inaccuraces in the Audit report, and they will eventualy come out, but it will be too late to do anything about it.
Look into the reports and see where "your" money is going.

warren said...

Simpel, stop thowing money down the drain. The fortnightly bin pick ups will help. The charging of non resedents of Stoke on Trent to use places like the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (other councils do this). Cuts in surport for the Regent Theatre and Victoria Hall witch sould now be stand on there own. Stoping of free tea and cakes in the council meetings(only jokeing, that was stoped years ago, at least I hope it was). Oh! and £5 per mounth of council tax across the board. That and the removel of old Mayday and all his hangers on in the spring sould go a long way to pulling back some of the money.

Ian Norris said...

Warren free tea n biscuits were stopped in Councillors Committee meetings, but is still served durin Officers meetings at time and p[aid from thier budget think its £25-45 for tea n biscuits, should be in the audit report anyway.

nicky said...

Personally I am generally in favour of taxation as a means to provide good public services and facilities. So the point here is that people with my viewpoint do not mind paying the council tax if we can see and approve of where it is being spent.

Terry you are quite right that sight of the audit report would be of great interest. Personally I think this should be more readily available. The trouble is that people like myself do not know where to find this. I’ve emailed the council about this so I’ll see what comes of that.

People will not always of course agree on what spending is appropriate. I for one am quite happy to see savings being made by getting rid of the mayor and his entourage. I am in favour of saving by not extending the SERCO contract. This will not only save money but will perhaps open the door to more common sense being applied in education. On the other hand I am in favour of retaining facilities like the Dimensions splash pool, the city farm and mobile libraries, if there are groups who use these a lot, even though I rarely use these myself these days. I agree with Peter Kent-Baguley that it should be explained to people why council tax needs to rise. Some of us might even agree with it rising if we can see what our money is buying and approve of it.

I think arguments regarding ‘efficiency savings’ are always very weak and unlikely to work. After all there should not be any inefficient working in the first place, nobody would argue for that. If there is some then it needs to be addressed but savings are not likely to be large. The argument over essential and non-essential services is not a good one either, there will be different opinions on what is essential and why not have other services if there is a demand for them. I think the better argument is about what services we want and what these cost and consequently what council tax is needed to pay for them. This needs to be much more transparent and involve the council tax payers.

Former Town Clerk's Dept said...

Okay, let's start again - what are the essential services that the Council provides? The essential services, by definition, must be those which are prescribed by law to be undertaken by the Council. Everything else is an add-on. So lets work up an alternative budget on that basis.

terry turbo said...

Nicky, like yourself I would stand against closures of public libraries, Dimensions, and city farms, as these are valuable services.
To get a copy of the audit phone the Finance department at Stoke city council 234567, the switchboard will put you through, you can also go to the civic centre and ask to see relevant documents,or e-mail and ask under the freedom of information act, which takes 20 days to get the information to you.
There are areas where savings can be made without cuts to services, and loss of front line services.
I promise you it will open your eyes to the way our money is being used.
Tony,craig sent you a document of the expenditure at the civic offices, it would help if people saw this document.

Ian Norris said...

Former Town Clerk's Dept: thats exactlt what the Independents start in our short term, to build a bbudget from a zero balance upwards, based on Policy and Need and not on what could be cut.

Shaun Bennett said...

You've made my exact point in far fewer words than I managed!

If the Independents are prepared to start from scratch in the way that Ian has indicated and try to totally rethink the finances of the authority, then that is precisely what this city desperately needs, and they should be congratulated for taking that choice.

Now lets hope my party nicks the idea!

Shaun Bennett said...

P.S. I won't be holding my breath on the last point!

Ian Norris said...

Shaun: they did; as they was also on joint cabinent which Labour refused to sit on. and we wanted a fresh look to the Budget.

Make the Budget fit your policies instead of changing your policy to meet the Budget.

True Stokie said...

Tony, a little bird tells me that the oracle is Roger the Dodger Hibbs, can you shed some light on this?
Just what is his association with you and pitsnpots?

terry turbo said...

For waste see Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
£15 million overspend on the Cultural Quarter.
£729,000 redecoration of the Civic Centre.
£7million when Worldgate hit the fan.
£3,300,000 Serco bill lilekly to rise to £5 million.
£683,000 free parking for selected council officials.
£350,000 to cut 21 mature trees down to replace it with a metal tree.
Cut and shut policies,care homes, schools, care for the elderly, waste.
Does this council still think its so great?

Ian Norris said...

£1.4 million overpsend

Tunstall Surestart not open by deadline, possible Clawback.

£unknown spent on traffic caliming and re-opening of Chatterley road, awaiting Freedom Information request for more details

warren said...

You can reliy on Mr. Cope to give you the facts and figgers there. The £15,000,000 overspent on that drated Cultural Quarter is indeed one of the reasons that problem is hear. Cultural Quarter indeed, its full of bars and whats the main event at the Victoria Halls most Saturday nights, Wrestling, very classy night out that.
Now let me give you a peace from the Regent Theatre brochure that the wife had mailed to her last week, 'The Cultural Quarter in Stoke on Trent was established as a result of the vision and courage ot the City Council on behalf of the citizens of Stoke on Trent.' I will leave you all with that load of old bullshine, I need to go the loo, I think I'v wet myself at that one again.

Anonymous said...

Lets hope barry stockley is never allowed into public life again and never to represent stoke in any form.I will vote bnp if he comes back.