Today we’re publishing our plans to reduce Bexley Council’s spending by £36 million over the next three years. To achieve this we need to reduce spending by one million pounds every single month – a very tough target, but one we will deliver on.
This is on top of the £20 million we have already saved since taking office in 2006.
We are certainly proposing some major changes, but we have been working hard on this since the beginning of the year, questioning and challenging every single penny spent and every service delivered.
All our work has been based on two key principles, that we will do all we can to protect the key services that all residents expect us to deliver – repairing roads, collecting rubbish – and that we will ensure we continue to help those most in need.
Looking at services in that framework really focused our work and meant we could make some key decisions early on – immediately ruling out changing the FACS criteria in social care for example – but we are also realistic. It is not remotely possible to reduce spending by £36million just from back office functions, and we will certainly be ending some services and scaling back others.
Unlike our neighbouring Labour council in Greenwich (which receives £700 per head in grant compared to our £200) we are not keeping our plans under lock and key, they have been published for everyone to look at, setting out portfolio by portfolio the savings and changes we are proposing.
We want our residents to look at all the plans over the next three months and tell us what they think, before we make our final decisions at the Budget Council meeting in March.
We are clear though that everyone, whether residents or the 11 opposition councillors must approach this in the same way that we have, that you cannot just say no to one proposal, you need to either find a replacement, or accept the money will need to be found from council tax increases.
The plans result in a 20% reduction of the senior management team, and we anticipate 300 jobs will be lost in the first phase. The long-standing private health care for senior staff is being withdrawn, along with many other changes to terms and conditions, such as the incredibly generous car mileage scheme which is being dramatically reduced.
As pledged in our election manifesto this year, councillor allowances, already among the lowest in London, will be frozen until 2014, having already been reduced by £200,000 over the previous four years; we are also scrapping things like the annual black tie Civic Reception.
We’re creating a One Council approach for the first time ever in Bexley, so we will no longer have different directorates all doing their own thing.
Just to illustrate the problem, when we took office from Labour in 2006 we asked for a complete breakdown of all the grants paid out to voluntary groups – it took months to get this list as each directorate had its own schemes, and we found that there were many organisations receiving funding from different council departments at the same time, all unknown to the other departments. Now we have a central pot of money for which organisations bid for, and no longer are grants automatically renewed and increased.
Procurement will also benefit from this new approach. Our studies revealed similar issues to the ones discovered by Philip Green – different departments having different arrangements with the same contractors, some contracts just being renewed rather than re-tendered. We are going to centrally manage all such contracts and procurement to deliver maximum value and drive down the costs.
And from 1st January, we’ll be publishing all our spending over £500.
Having to deal with a massive budget deficit left by a Labour administration is nothing new for us. When we won back the Council in 2006 we found Labour was spending £10 million a year more than was coming in – at the same time as they increased Council Tax by 40%! We worked hard to turn things around and we are now well placed to calmly deal with the spending reductions announced by the Government.
A lot of work has gone into our plans, by councillors and council staff over the last few months, and there are some very difficult decisions to be made about services, but after thirteen years of doing things because the Labour Government ordered us to, we are now getting on with creating a smaller council, costing less and delivering what our residents want.