Conservative-led Wolverhampton Council is proposing a further series of £7.6 million in savings. This is to allow a freeze in Council Tax next year. Council leader Cllr Neville Patten told the BBC the Council has "far to many staff" and needs to be "leaner and fitter" to be "ready for the challenges" which lie ahead.
The basis of the economy drive has been cutting back room staff and preserving front line services. Their proposals are here. The "deletion of vacant marketing post" in the Children's and Young People Department will save £42,000. Will the opposition Labour councillors die in ditch protesting over that one? there seems to be a £90,000 saving from using smaller envelopes. There are £333,000 of savings in the Office of Chief Executive including deletion of vacant posts. Lead from the front.
There is a "Reduction in the Equalities and Diversity Supply Staff" budget in the Children's and Young People Department although the £7,000 saving sound rather modest. The "Governor support" budget is reduced by £21,000. Good. In my experience as a school governor this "support" involves being pestered to attend training sessions consisting of sheer gobbledygook.
Other choices are tougher. Home care charges are to be increased so they are closer to those charged by other councils. It is proposed to cut spending on day care provision for the elderly. Of course any spending cuts on day care will prompt emotive opposition. But there are a substantial number of unused places. The service will continue to be available for those who need it. Reorganising, for instance if a day care centre is moved, or closed to reduce surplus provision, could well prove unsettling. It is estimated it will save £450,000 a year. Modest charging will be brought in for those who can afford to pay (it is expected t0 average £6 a week.) This will bring in an extra £270,000. Those who express moral indignation should remember those elderly people in Wolverhampton who struggle to pay their Council Tax bills.
Less controversial will be the Council's greater priority for "re-enablement." This means where possible helping those who can do so to live independently rather than being reliant on institutional care. Working in partnership with the voluntary sector the Council hopes that by spending more on "re-enablement" they will save £200,000 overall.
The Council has been criticised for planning to "close" the Visitor Information Centre. They are looking to move it to another building they own (maybe an art gallery) and save £87,000 rather than keep it on its own site. £250,000 will be saved on arts subsidies by bringing various theatres, arts centres and civic halls into one company. The venues will all carry on so "very little effect upon their customers." But the savings will be from just having one chief executive, one office, joint procurement, one business rates bill, etc.
I've only picked out a few examples. It all goes on for 119 pages. Why with all these savings is the Council Tax only being frozen rather than cut? Due to other areas where spending is rising. The Planning Department will cost more due to a shortfall of £240,000 on planning fees due to the recession. Street lighting is costing £220,000 than budgeted for. (Other councils are finding savings in this area.)
Of course more could be done. But these proposals represent a lot of courage, intelligence and hard work. Congratulations to Wolverhampton.