Conservative controlled Leicestershire County Council is determined to honour its pledge to freeze Council Tax despite having lost £117 million of Government grant over the last five years, compared with the Town Hall average, a shortfall in revenue due to the recession and increased cost pressure in adult social care. £47 million of efficiency savings are planned with staff reductions of 650 over four years. By making tough decisions in good time it is hoped that compulsory redundancies can largely be avoided with most of the reduction going through natural wastage. To reduce admin overheads an entire department, the Community Services Department, is being closed down.
Their proposals are here. Of course it is difficult to comment without local knowledge. They are cutting library opening hours which seems a shame. Often there is absurd overmanning in municipal libraries and big savings could be achieved without cutting opening hours. But then I don't know the figures for staffing, current opening hours or the numbers using Leicestershire libraries.
£350,000 a year will eventually on street lighting. This has followed successful trails in Essex and Gloucestershire which have not shown evidence of increased crime as a result. The savings of £270,000 on Trading Standards by cutting out some of the routine inspections to focus on priority areas sounds sensible. Some office space is being shared with Melton Borough Council.
Growthareas include allowance for the annual £8 a ton increase in Landfill Tax, also spending an extra £500,000 on "reablement" – if spent effectively this should result in savings overall as it is about helping people recover so they can look after themselves rather than need permanent care. Keeping a grip on spending growth is often just as much of a challenge as finding savings. Should they really have let their Chief Executive get away with an £90,000 on the budget for the "new statutory duty to promote democracy"?
One important aspect of what Leicestershire has done is to consult the public on where the axe should fall. This process got nearly 2,000 responses with some interesting results including less frequent grass cutting. This item will end up with £500,000 annual savings. Of those consulted 77% wanted a Council Tax freeze, 17% a Council Tax cut and 8% a Council Tax increase.