As Shropshire has been in the news recently about changing staff terms and conditions I would like to bring some clarity to the sometimes inaccurate press coverage.
My Council’s agreed three year financial plan finds almost £80 million of spending cuts without fuss or fanfare, on the back of an extensive public consultation we started last summer. With a clear set of political priorities, we have protected essential frontline services, whilst cutting millions from waste and bureaucracy as our first priority. We will not be closing any of our local libraries or our Sure Start centres. Nor will we be making large numbers of staff redundant, with additional costs for the public purse.
How are we achieving this? We started by reducing our management overheads by at least 20%, (30% at senior levels) saving over £5 million a year. We looked at all the wasteful practises we could find and stopped them. In addition, savings of at least £7 million will be made from introducing new terms and conditions for our staff, which will reduce our wages bill and allow us to work more productively in future. Conservative Councillors led the way on this, by cutting their own allowances by 5% last April.
At the same time, we have frozen Council Tax for the next two years and, in 2013, have agreed to reduce it to the lowest level within Shropshire currently. Council Tax rates within the County are in the process of being equalised, following the creation of the new single Council two years ago, but our approach will now mean that they will reduce by more than 4% for many of our residents.
This streamlining and opening up of the Council as an organisation will also enable us to be more innovative in how we deliver public services in future, and we are actively exploring how we can divest ourselves of activities to make greater use of the Voluntary and Community Sector, local businesses and social enterprises. We are also investing in measures to boost our local economy and in better social care for our most vulnerable residents.
At the same time, we are “turning the Council inside out”, moving all our frontline services into our market towns, to be closer to where local people congregate. These will act as local service “hubs”, and will directly involve local people in designing and commissioning their own “customised” local services, with local councillors playing an important new role as “social entrepreneurs”. This is true localism. We are very clear about what the “Big Society” looks like in Shropshire, and already have examples of resilient, self-sufficient local communities, with strong civic engagement and volunteering as the norm. We will be building on this, as we open up the option for local community groups to own and run facilities directly.
We positively welcome the new opportunities and freedoms being created by the Coalition Government, and are quietly getting on with these things, competently and confidently, as are the best councils elsewhere. This is good government, not Big Government.