Cllr Michael Freer, the Conservative leader of Barnet Council, says his Council already has the second lowest back office costs in London – but big further admin savings are planned by sharing costs with public services.
Whilst many Councils could teach Central Government a think or two about how to cut costs and improve services, there are parts of local government that remain well behind the private sector in their efficiency. Given that everyone is expecting funding to local government to be cut, smart councils are already preparing for the future. Financial pressures are tough but at the same time trust in politicians and satisfaction with council services has dropped whilst expectations are rising. That’s a toxic combination for any organisation.
In Barnet over the past seven years we had already taken £80m out of our discretionary budgets, reduced our workforce by about 25% and achieved the 2nd lowest back office costs in London. At the same time appreciation of Barnet as a place is high – 80% of our residents like living in the Borough. But with funding cuts expected we have to find another way of reducing costs – we’ve gone as far as we could with salami slicing budgets! It was time for a whole new operating model – not only to reduce costs, increase
In Phase One we reckon we can take a further £12million out of the base budget mainly by de-duplicating what employees do – we have hundreds of people on the road every day and yet only those tasked with reporting street faults do – why not the rest?. We have 100+ buildings and yet we continue to manage them in house – having squeezed out the quick wins it’s time to explore getting the private sector in to drive out the harder to achieve savings. It’s time for our residents to accept the Council can’t do everything but perhaps the biggest opportunity is merging some public sector functions.
We have the Council, the NHS (acute, primary and ambulances), the Police, the fire brigade, Barnet College and Middlesex University, Job Centre Plus etc etc. We all have buildings, payroll, HR functions, accounts/finance sections yet. Why are they all separate? Uniformed activities like the police could retain their operational independence but there should be just one back office. Councils talk about shared services – but few do it (unless it is their own services being shared with others!). It’s time to be brutal and within Council boundaries (keeps some democratic accountability) force organisations together.