Cllr David Burbage is the Leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council, which has already the lowest Council Tax outside of a few London Boroughs, Here he announces a 4% Council Tax cut.
The Left in British Politics have for so long dominated the agenda in taxation debates, that it has become a question of not how much Council Tax should be, rather, it has often become a debate about by how much it should rise each year!
I don’t agree with this. We want to provide quality services to local residents – from filling in potholes to safeguarding children – but by creating a more efficient council, we can do that without needing quite so much of taxpayers’ funds.
Some councils say that they are making huge efficiency savings – but then end up by promising either to keep Council Tax in line with inflation, or at best a council tax freeze. If a council can be made 10% more efficient, then council tax should necessarily fall as a result. With the gearing effect that Government funding provides, falls could be even greater than the efficiency savings achieved. Our grants are very low, so efficiencies are hard earned.
So how are Windsor and Maidenhead achieving a 4% reduction in our Council Tax?
Our officers were charged with meeting and exceeding our 2007 manifesto pledge to beat inflation (defined as the prior September RPI, thus assuring our pensioners that they’ll be better off year by year) – and that was minus 1.4%. So our worst case scenario for 2010/11 was an absolute cut in Council Tax! And if we could do better, then we wanted to consider that too.
By planning ahead, we identified some £6.2m of savings as early as October 2009; the relevant publicly available Cabinet paper can be found here under “Finance”.
“Lean” principles are used in private industry, famously as practised in Toyota – to examine and continuously improve business processes. Finding and eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort, needless checks and supervision that aren’t really necessary; many administration tasks can be simplified and also speeded up, providing a better service for residents. Government “guidance” can hold back a common sense approach.
We’re rolling out Lean throughout the Council.
Some of our savings are as a result of reorganisation – the “typing pool” obviously not in fact but in principle. We have started to multi-skill our wardens – so that community wardens can remove graffiti rather than just report it to another department, so that parking wardens could issue litter fines rather than witness a driver just throwing rubbish out of a car window.
Translating that principle to the back office of the council’s administrative tasks, we can start to share tasks around traditional “silos” so that eg all scanning tasks can be shared, all form filling or form checking tasks can be shared – or removed – and this offers greater possibilities to staff who become familiar with larger parts of the Council’s responsibilities. Equipping people to do “more stuff” not only adds to our resilience, but overall by sharing workloads when demands in a service area are high, makes for a far more efficient organisation.
Finally, we incentivise our officers to deliver on savings. With money. We know Members don’t deliver the public services personally, and we certainly prefer carrot to stick (as has been seen with our innovative incentive based recycling).
Members at Windsor and Maidenhead simply will not agree to cut front line services, or make wholly unacceptable changes that the public would not wear, such as raising charges disproportionately – this means that much more effort is required to analyse opportunities for making the organisation work more smartly, rather than simply making service cuts that affect residents directly.
It can be done!
We are showing that it can be done – More 4 Less.
4% less means residents in a Band ‘D’ household will be saving over £40 in 2010/11, and our cumulative tax cut, in real terms, over our three years’ budgets will have risen to over 7%.
For further information about our tax cut, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne says:
"Windsor and Maidenhead council is to be congratulated on reducing spending while improving public services. By publishing all pieces of spending over £500 it has introduced a new culture of accountability and transparency. It's a reminder that at all levels of government we need responsible economic policies to get Britain back on her feet. We can't go on like this."
Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council says:
"Hammersmith & Fulham Council is delighted that we are no longer alone in cutting Council Tax. This shows that the flagship Conservative Councils can combine high quality services with low council tax.
"Well done to David Burbage and his team at Windsor & Maidenhead!"