Slimmer and leaner council proposed
Published: Friday 27th September 13
A series of major measures to reduce back office costs have been proposed by Wandsworth Council in a bid to shield frontline services from savings required by Government.
The council is proposing to become even slimmer and leaner in the years ahead, with fewer senior managers and fewer buildings to maintain.
More services will be market tested, with charities, voluntary agencies and private companies given the chance to run them. There will also be greater use of automated and online customer services, and greater economies of scale by merging departments.
At the heart of the changes will be a commitment to continuing to provide Wandsworth residents with the best town hall services in the country at a price they can afford.
Council leader Ravi Govindia said: "Wandsworth has a proven track record of providing the best quality local services of any council in the UK - and for the past 30 years has charged its residents the lowest average council tax bills in the country.
"Every town hall in Britain is having to play its role in reducing the nation's debt and deficit levels. We will continue to bear down on costs, as we have done successfully for the past three decades, to ensure that not only do taxpayers get full value for their money, but that we also protect the frontline services that our residents rely on.
"We will do this by cutting down on back office costs, selling off vacant buildings, market testing our services, reducing the number of high paid managers and looking at intelligent new ways of generating extra income."
Between April 2014 and April 2016, councils in London are facing a 23 per cent reduction in Government grant. For Wandsworth this leaves a spending gap of £43m.
To meet this challenge the council has published proposals to address this shortfall. This includes:
- Cutting the number of council department from six to four. This will allow for a big saving on senior officer salaries.
- Looking to market test services like the youth service, some IT services and office support services.
- Supporting employees who wish to set up staff mutuals - allowing them to deliver services at a reduced cost by removing town hall overheads.
- Streamlining back office functions. This includes rationalising all departmental finance teams.
- Reducing the number of buildings used by the council. This removes costly repair and maintenance bills and allows for some to be sold to generate additional income.
- Streamlining the council's decision making processes by cutting the number of committee meetings. Fewer reports will be produced on paper and will instead be published electronically to save on unnecessary printing costs.
The proposed changes have taken on board the views of local people who took part in a series of detailed consultation exercises over the summer. This included a special online survey of residents associations, business groups, pensioner organisations, neighbourhood watch co-ordinators and other amenity groups. Another survey was conducted face-to-face with 1,500 residents who are contacted every two years and asked to help shape council policy.
The face-to-face survey found that 67 per cent agreed with the statement: "I don't care if it is the council or another organisation that carries out local services as long as they are of a good standard."
Only 17 per cent disagreed.
In addition, 84 per cent of people agreed that "keeping council tax low is essential for residents" up from 67 per cent a decade ago. Only six per cent disagreed.
An analysis of these responses found that keeping bills as low as possible drew much greater support from tenants in social housing than from property owners.
The online survey also showed that 48 per cent of respondents supported the notion that the council should market test services "to get the lowest price wherever possible" compared to 34 per cent who were against the idea.
Forty percent also supported the idea of council staff setting up their own self managed organisations to reduce costs, with only 23 per cent against.
Cllr Govindia added: "There will be some tough decisions ahead but also new opportunities to examine what we do as an organisation and whether or not there are better ways of achieving the same goals.
"The insight that will result from market testing, from the greater involvement of the voluntary and private sectors and the establishment of staff mutuals will open up fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking. Our services will become more flexible and more responsive to the needs of our residents by removing unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, and being able to lever in new sources of funding.
"What our residents can rely on above all else is that we will protect our frontline services, we will safeguard services for the vulnerable and we will do so by keeping our council tax bills affordable."
Wandsworth's current Band D council tax bill is £684. This compares to an average Band D bill in London of more than £1,300.
The package of cost saving measures will be considered by councillors on the finance and corporate resources scrutiny committee on October 3.