The news from Doncaster has been pretty grim of late. A report has shown that an incident last April of two brothers, now aged 11 and 12, torturing two innocent boys was "preventable." The perpetrators of violence had themselves been growing up in a violent family. Social workers were very well aware of the situation but had failed to act.
The Mayor of Doncaster Peter Davies, an English Democrat, can't be held responsible for these terrible failings – he was only elected last June. But he has made a serious mistake in resisting the publication of the full report by applying for an injunction. He just wanted the Executive Summary. Naturally he was acting on the advice of his officers – using the excuse of protecting anonymity of the families. The officers will also told him that this approach of only publishing the Executive Report was "following Government practice."
I hope that will change under a new Government. Shadow Children's Minister Tim Loughton backs full disclosure.
There is also a mess regarding the appointment of a new Chief Executive. Evidently the Labour councillors are trying to impose someone on the Mayor that he doesn't want.
The better news if that the Mayor is delivering a 3% cut in Council Tax. Some of the savings (not least his own salary) have already been documented. Some more are listed here(click on Item 5.3 but your computer has to be able to cope with an XLS to see it.) Understandably given the above there is extra funding for the Children's Social Work Service which was already planned for in the budget. Although I suspect the Mayor will fully understand that money is not the key problem – it is to get the system working properly. For instance getting down the number of agency staff by persuading good social workers to join and remain, which is one of the aims Mr Davies will focus on, would actually reduce costs as well as providing a better service.
Communications sees savings of £106,000 a year. £20,000 is being saved by reduced equalities training. £18,000 on Council funded trade union facility time and free accommodation. (The figure is pretty modest there will be potential for much more.) £225,000 is being raised by charging staff for using the staff car park. Scrapping membership of the LGA and LGIU will save £80,000. A cut in councillors training offers another £10,000 saving. £4,000 is saved by scrapping town twinning. £50,000 is saved by staffing reductions in "Democratic Services." £268,000 is being cut from the "Success Doncaster" programme. It's one of these Council schemes to offer advice to people setting up in business. Maybe it's of some use. But how many budding entrepreneurs really feel a pep talk from a bureaucrat is critical? Rather more help will be lower taxes leaving your potential customers with more money to spend.
Quite a lot of extra income is coming in from higher charge. There is also some service reduction (libraries on Saturdays opening at 10am instead of 9am.)
It looks to me as if there is a lot of potential for the Mayor to go further. I'm not sure he has got a proper grip on his officers yet. Looking at the website you would imagine it was still a socialist Council with prominent messages on the front page encouraging readers to sign up for welfare benefits or read about an Equality Scheme consultation – but nothing about the proposed Council Tax cut. Curiously many of the proposed savings in the list include comments from officers complaining about them – perhaps if Doncaster Council were to press release the Council Tax cut they would be lamenting what bad news it was.
The officers should accept that Peter Davies has won an election and has a mandate. Officers should get on and implement his policies not seek to sabotage them. His Council Tax cut is an historic achievement for which he deserves congratulations. But it seems he has some way to go in changing the culture of the Council.