Press reports of large salaries paid to senior Council officials, and yesterday’s post on this blog about Chief Executives of Councils, has revealed the strong feeling that Council bureaucracies are out of touch and spending far too much on themselves.
We elect Councillors to direct and control these bureaucracies, and are about to see some of them on our doorsteps asking for our vote. It is a good time to remind them that above all we want them to seek value for money in what they do spend, and reduce the Council Tax they impose on us.
To do this, in many cases they could cut the Tax by:
1. Telling their officers that they are halving the budget for external consultancies, as they expect their professional staff at the Council to do more of the work themselves.
2. Impose a staff freeze on all administrative and executive posts, appointing to the ones that really matter from among the exisiting employees of the Council.
3. Design with the top officers a new structure for top officials, with fewer posts, to be implemented as and when senior officers leave. This might entail removing the CEO’s office, or requiring the CEO to undertake one of the functional roles as well.
4. Concentrate the work of the Councils on the main services that matter – schools, social care, planning and transport. Reduce the Council’s involvement in trying to run everyone else’s responsibilities through so called partnerships.
5. Cut the number of commitees and meetings, with Councillors concentrating on a limited number of issues that matter most.
6. Cut out all the expensive surveys – it is the job of Councillors to keep in touch with electors and to know the mood of the taxpayers and service users. Councillors should take an interest in the Complaints department, and seek to abolish it by managing down the number of complaints to remove the need for it.
7. Stopping the urge of some Highways departments to tinker endlessly and expensively with the network.
8. Review the assets of the Council and dispose of assets that are not being used and properly maintained in Council care.
9. Implement a policy to cut the Council’s use of energy by improving insulation, controls and building use.
10. Review the Council’s transport requirements and vehicle use to cut the cost.
Many Councils could save millions by following these simple approaches. Officers try to keep Councillors discussing “unavoidable commitments”, “partnerships”, “service obligations”, grant formulae and budgets based on the expectation of perpetual growth in resources. Councillors need to reply by talking about the cash people have to send to the Council to pay for everything, and the results they are getting for spending it all. They should remember that many people cannot afford an increase in their Council Tax and do not think it represents good value to them.