Leicestershire is proud of its record on financial management. We have been consistently recognised by independent authorities as the highest performing County Council in the country, with an enviable reputation in providing value for money services. Despite low levels of central government grant (we have lost out on £117m in the last five years) we deliver high levels of performance. This is reflected in our latest CAA rating as “performing excellently”.
Labour’s disastrous economic management has led to a perfect storm for local government finances- falling grants, lower council tax receipts, budget growth and the prospect of increasing charges for services. No council remains unaffected from this, especially when government debt as a percentage of GDP is running at an astonishing 80%.
The first decision we made was to honour our manifesto commitments to freezing the council tax for at least three years. We instructed our officers to figure this base into the budget, assume a relative inflation rate increase of 3% by year four and then identify where the worst shortfalls in both capital and revenue receipts over the longer term would be. The result was an excess of spending commitments over funding of £66m over four years.
£47m of this shortfall was identified via efficiency savings (£45m) and planned increases in income (£2m) from new charges and £19m in service reductions. A quick breakdown of the savings we identified, which other councils may also consider are:
- The targeting of adult social care services to the most vulnerable people. We have restructured eligibility criteria for applicants and removed the “moderate” category entirely, in line with most county councils (saving around £15m over four years).
- Removed the quick response service for road repairs so that all but non-emergency work is done through planned maintenance (saving £5.5m over four years).
- Removed non-statutory school bus services (saving £800k).
- Reduced opening times at libraries, museums and the Records Office and reduced the amount of spend on book stocks (saving £2.9m over four years).
- Identified the removal of 650 of our 6,000 FT staff (excluding schools).
- Reduced the frequency of grass cutting from 12 urban cuts to six (reducing the cost by £1.25m over four years).
Over the same period, the overall budget will increase from £325m to £344m (excluding schools). This is mainly due to increased demands from Adult Social Care and funding more environmentally-friendly ways of dealing with waste. So whilst the biggest spending department is facing £75m of savings over the next four years, we are still investing £71m helping those in greatest need, investing in extra-care facilities and expanding provision for those with mental health issues.
A total of 1,828 people from all over the county responded to the budget consultation carried out by the County Council. This includes 77 people who were selected by Ipsos/Mori for an in-depth analysis of the county council’s budget and they were divided into nine “Cabinets” and each asked to prioritise their “budgets”. Their findings mirror our proposed budget. People tell us they want to safeguard vulnerable people and maintain support for children, young people and adults. They are happy to see savings made from home-to-school transport, library services, public transport subsidy, street lighting and grass cutting.
None of these decisions are easy. My advice to my colleagues is to plan early, anticipate any problems, think strategically and pay lots of attention to what local people are telling you are their priorities. Consult them often, keep them informed and communicate effectively. Do it quickly and decisively. Explain to them why you are doing it.
You will be very surprised at their reaction to these very difficult times we live in.