Council Tax is set to be cut by 3 per cent for the fourth successive year, Hammersmith & Fulham Council announced today.
The news comes at a time when the council’s services have officially been judged to be among the best in the country by the Audit Commission and a series of opinion polls show residents’ approval ratings continuing to rise substantially.
The council has taken out more than £56 million worth of waste and bureaucracy over recent years.
H&F Council Leader Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh says:
“Some critics have argued in the past that cutting costs is unpopular – this is nonsense. What we are doing in Hammersmith & Fulham is hugely popular with local residents.
“All councils have a duty to respond to the perfect storm of social and economic challenges caused by Britain’s toxic debt mountain which is fast approaching £1.4 trillion. Britain is heading for bankruptcy unless we all start making radical changes that can truly deliver better services for less money.”
When council tax demands go through letterboxes in May, hard-pressed council taxpayers in other London boroughs will be charged hundreds of pounds more than four years ago. But – if budget proposals are officially rubber stamped early next year – the H&F plan will see average bills £122 cheaper than they were in 2006/07. If other London authorities increase their share by 2.6 per cent – which has been the average over the past three years – an average H&F taxpayer is better off by more than £600.
Cutting waste and bureaucracy
Over the past four years H&F Council has:
- Reduced its debt mountain by £24 million saving taxpayers more than £2.9 million a year in reduced debt repayments. This has been achieved by selling assets we no longer need and minimising new borrowing.
- Reduced the number of bureaucrats by nearly 600 posts (over 1000 including outsourcing.) We have cut policy advisor posts. Staff are working harder and their productivity is up. Better ways of working mean we need fewer people to provide the same, or better, standards of service. For example, we have brought together all our human resources staff into one central team, and reduced the number of staff.
- We are looking at more efficient ways of working, such as enabling more people to get services, such as parking permits, via the internet, and buying our supplies more cost-effectively.
- Disposed of costly office space saving £1.3 million.
- We have saved £300,000 on the cost of producing our newspaper for residents, H&F News. This has been done by raising more money from commercial advertising and by using cheaper paper. By out-sourcing our printing and getting printing firms to quote more competitively, we are saving 20% on the costs of our leaflets and brochures, saving another £300,000.
- Council staff work from a large number of different offices all across the borough. We have made savings by concentrating staff in fewer buildings, saving money on rents, business rates, heating, lighting and security. We are also expanding home and mobile working, to reduce office costs even further, saving £1.1million.
- For many of our offices, automatic switches now cut the lights whenever the offices are empty. We have installed solar panels on the town hall roof and we are buying our energy more cheaply.
- Some services were expensive to run but benefited very few people and we have closed or reduced these. They include Sands End public laundry, where alternative commercial services are available at a better price and the staff canteens which were used by very few staff.
- By setting up a one-stop-shop for all social care and support services, we have saved £350,000, as well as making it easier for residents to use these services. We have a single point of contact, rather than having to make separate applications to a series of individual services.
- H&F Direct provides a fast transactional service to residents for council tax, housing and education benefits, business rates, housing charges, penalty charge notices, resident parking permits. Headcount has been reduced from 227 in 2006/7 down to 149 in 2009/10 and costs have reduced by 29% or £3.6 million so far despite workload increasing from 2000 callers needing assessment for benefits per month to 8000 callers in last 9 months. Staff have been multi-skilled and online processes developed to process council tax payments, parking permits and housing benefit claims. 70% of parking permits are now be paid online.
- When people report problems, make payments or apply for services via the internet or over the phone, rather than by coming into council offices in person, it costs the council less. Many people prefer to do business with us on-line or by phone, so expanding the range of services available in this way is popular with residents. This, together with huge improvements in how we handle public enquiries and service requests, has netted a saving of £4 million.
Better services for less money
At the same time the council is prioritising front line services that matter most to residents:
- Some of the best and most improved secondary schools in England.
- By introducing competition to £90 million of council services, we have saved £5 million a year. While saving money, we are improving the quality of services. For example, since the street cleaning contract was awarded, 93 per cent of our streets are cleaner than the national standards, up seven per cent, accoprding to the Tidy Britain Group.
- H&F parks are among the best in the UK with £8 million spent on improving open spaces (3 green flags.) The multi-million pound parks investment programme includes major revamps for Normand Park on Lillie Road, Shepherds Bush Green, South Park and Bishop’s Park. Since market-testing grounds maintenance, three of our parks have been judged to be among the best in Britain and have been awarded Green Flags.
- A new £2 million flagship library for London was opened at Shepherds Bush at virtually no cost to the taxpayer (first for 40 years.) This was thanks to negotiations to secure major funding from the Westfield shopping centre.
- H&F is putting more bobbies on the beat by contributing to £4million over two years for extra town centre police.
- Waste and recycling is still collected weekly and on the same day.
- 800 vulnerable people continue to receive homecare who otherwise would not be eligible in most other local authorities.
And it is popular with residents
Three independent surveys have showed residents’ satisfaction rising rapidly. The Place Survey is a postal poll of around 1,500 residents and was carried out last autumn. H&F is now ranked in an elite band of five
London councils, compared to 15th three years ago. Spiralling tax and tumbling residents’ satisfaction is commonplace among the other 411 public sector authorities in Britain.
In a second poll, residents’ satisfaction in H&F is up to an all time high of 75 per cent – up from 64 per cent in 2007. The Reputation and Media survey polled 600 H&F residents over the phone last March. 58 per cent said the council provides good value for money, up from 46 per cent in 2007.
Meanwhile figures from the Annual Residents’ Survey 2008 show that compared to the 2006 survey, overall resident satisfaction is up 11 per cent, to 64 per cent.
All of this means H&F is officially judged to be one of the best performing councils in Britain.