Jill Sherman has a report The Times (£) this morning about Norfolk County Council's plans for £150 million of savings over four years. I think it is three years but that is a pretty meaningless figure as it is the savings per year that is relevant – not adding up the savings from several years to get a big number. Perhaps the savings will be £40 million in first year, £50 million in the second year and £60 million in the third year. So at their peak a saving of £60 million a year – on a £1.577 billion budget.
The Council's 26,000 workforce is planned to shrink by 3,000 – but many of those will be working for private companies contracted by the council. Nor does it mean the rest losing their jobs – much of the reduction could be achieved by not replacing those who retire or leave for other jobs.
Naturally Jill Sherman highlights the more controversial proposals in her report. She writes:
The plans include ending the council’s HIV/Aids service, reducing mental health services, cutting support for those with learning difficulties, reducing social care equipment and removing subsidies for meals on wheels and school transport. Increasing admission charges for museums, changing opening hours and reducing library services are also included in the programme.
But reading the full programme puts these plans in context. for instance the Meals on Wheels charges are for those who can afford to pay.
Rather than "reducing library services" it sounds as though a pretty good effort will be made to maintain the service while cutting staffing. The document says:
This proposal would include savings from reduced staffing in libraries, and further savings from ‘self-serve’ ways of working. We would also explore the possible use of volunteers to support the library service.
On HIV/Aids this is an example of where a better service could be provided by the voluntary sector rather than directly by the council. Of course the NHS has the man role. The document says:
Most support for people with HIV and Aids is through the NHS. This proposal would see an end to this discretionary service which offers advice and support to some people newly-diagnosed with HIV and Aids.
On Museum admission charges:
Admission prices would rise above inflation, although there will still be concessions for some users.
On school transport:
We propose to end the subsidy for post-16 transport. It will mean that all parents and carers will pay an annual cost of transport of £784 per student per year.
On social care equipment, the accompanying consultation document says:
Older people who may only need a simple piece of equipment to help in their daily lives, such as a handrail, will be advised what to buy and where they can buy it, rather than having it provided free by the council. Or where we arrange and fund a service like home care for someone we will ask them to pay more towards the cost where they can.
That again seems reasonable if they can afford it. What should a Council Taxpayer on a low income pay for a millionaire to have a free handrail?
The more detail you read about what Norfolk is planning the less shocking it seems. This is certainly an ambitous and sensible plan for savings – but talk of "savage cuts" is ludicrous.