The Department for Communities (and local government) has an apparent annual total budget of £39,686,000,000 including capital. This, however, leaves out the main financing of schools through the new centralised schools grant, another £23,000,000,000. There are other discontinuities and recharges in the figures which mean the budget does not capture the full picture of local government spending.
The Department’s annual report does not make good reading. Between the department and local government they are making heavy weather of the very centralised target system this government has put in. DSO 3 “to build prosperous communities” has not yet been assessed, which is perhaps just as well in the middle of a recession which is doing lots of damage to prosperity. We are told there is “no progress” with DSO 5 to provide “a more efficient, effective and transparent planning system” . The PSA target to improve the “effectiveness and efficiency of local government” is “not met”. PSA target 21 to “build more cohesive, empowered, active communities” has not been assessed.
Doesn’t it just go to show how absurd all this top down effort to control and direct local government has become? If they want to run everything, why do we pay for Councillors and Chief Officers in Councils to do it as well? Wouldn’t it be better to sweep away the panoply of central targets and controls, and let Councils get on with it? We can always kick out Councillors when Councils don’t perform or waste too much money. When we costed this for the 2005 Conservative manifesto it would have saved £1,000,000,000 of central overhead. It will be much more four years on.
The department has 123 staff earning more than £100,000. It has 75 staff in communications. It spent £54,000,000 on consultancies and interims last year. Councils spend £1,589,000,000 on economic development, on top of the regional and national budgets.
There is considerable scope here for savings at the national level. Individual Councils also need to decide how many corporate strategists, networkers, strategic partnerships and all the rest they really need, as they now have a small army each to talk the talk with the crazy language of Whitehall bossiness, interference ,advice and targets. There are too many box tickers on both sides, so let’s have fewer boxes to tick. We need fewer strategic partnerships and more concentration on each Council’s core functions.
Looking at many a Council’s management structure the viewer is mesmerised both by the very large numbers of well paid senior officers, and by the array of job titles which tell you nothing about what if anything they really do. They need these people to conform to the government’s wasteful and jargon filled view of how Councils should work. If they don’t do it this way they get black marks and lose their stars. Whitehall treats Councils like primary school pupils. Gone are the days when there was a Head of Education, a Head of Social Services, a Finance Head, and a few other sensible titles and roles. Now there are Heads of Strategic Partnerships, Heads of corporate strategy, all sorts of roles for networkers and “business services”. It would be good to hear from you about some of the silly job titles and overlaps in your local Council.