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Archive for January 23rd, 2011

Budgets in Tower Hamlets

The Mayor’s cabinet will meet on February 9 to put forward its budget proposals for 2011/12. These will then be debated by the full council of Tower Hamlets on February 23 and by March 10 at the latest. Given the scale of the cuts forced on the borough by the Coalition, it’s going to be an excruciating few weeks.

We already know that about £70million in savings are needed over the next three years, meaning a loss of some 500 jobs. For years, I’ve been arguing that there is an incredible amount of fat in the system. That junior press officers are being paid almost £40,000 a year, more than twice the local newspaper reporters asking them the questions, is scandalous. The salaries of the top fat cats, including £100,000 for “head of communications” Takki Sulaiman is even worse.

So where and how that axe falls as the council quite rightly moves to make the town hall workforce more representative of the borough’s population will be interesting to watch.

In the past, these budgets have been overseen by some pretty able politicians. I know for a fact that former chief executive Martin Smith – a highly respected accountant – was extremely impressed with the way that Labour’s Josh Peck set about learning his finance brief from 2006 onwards. But I would imagine that same level of respect does not quite extend to the current cabinet (a couple of people excepted of course…). In fact, it is likely that officers may well have been able to rule the roost and provided Mayor Lutfur’s overwhelmed aides with a fait accompli set of savings proposals.

The full set of proposed savings can be viewed from p117 on this document from the January 12 cabinet. Interestingly, East End Life does not warrant a single specific mention. I presume that means nothing has yet been finalised in that area, possibly because of trade union pressure. The only reference to Takki’s department is on p316, where there is a broad outline of £1.3m in savings over the next three years, including the loss of 15 out of 45 posts.

The budget document is a mine of information, some of which I’m still exploring. For the moment, I’ll highlight two things: on p129, you’ll see that as a result of the credit crunch, the council’s independent actuary has told the town hall that it must cough up an extra £3.4billion million to ensure that staff receive their gold-plated pensions.

The other interesting section is on p187, where savings to the council’s “democratic services and member support” department are outlined. These are the people who for years have had to put up, courteously, with the often arrogant and snotty attitudes of some councillors who see them as their slaves. Deputy Mayor Ohid Ahmed, I know for one, has upset a few of these officers who do the donkey work to help with constituents’ problems. With the advent of the new Mayor’s Office, it is reckoned that most queries will be directed that way rather than through councillors, hence potential for savings. Reading the savings proposal, however, it seems as if the departing members of staff have had the last laugh. “If you’re going to cut us,” they seem to have said, “you’re sure as hell going to have to work for yourselves in future.” Except, of course, many of them won’t: they’re too lazy, and constituents will just suffer as a result.

The full text of the proposal is copied below for ease of reference. You’ll get a feel for what work councillors will now have to do: no biscuits and grand buffets, fewer business cards, book meetings themselves, pay for damaged mobile phones etc etc etc…

A. Re-organisation of Democratic Services (Members Support, Committee and Administrative Support Teams):

The Democratic Services Team provides support to elected Members and to the Council’s decision making and constitutional processes. The three teams to be reviewed currently comprise of 28 posts (27.13 FTE).

The total budgeted expenditure for the teams in 2010/11 is £2,773k. This is broken down as follows:-

– – –

Employee costs = £1,221k

Non-staffing costs = £609k (of which £425k represents recharges) Members’ Allowances and Member Learning & Development = £943k

Benchmarking data shows that the level of support provided to Councillors in Tower Hamlets is generally higher than in many neighbouring and peer authorities.

In addition the number of Members Enquiries processed has increased year on year from 5,666 in 2005/06 to 8,655 in 2009/10.

The section was last fully reorganised in 2007 and a further review is now required to respond to changes since then including the introduction of the elected mayoral system from October 2010.

Savings of £400k p.a. are required to be achieved by this service. This represents about 28% of the total budget excluding Members’ allowances and recharges.

The reorganisation, which was launched for consultation on 17th December, will aim to:-

x       Rationalise the support provided to Members both from within CE’s Directorate and across the Council services;

x       Achieve the savings required;

x       Deliver the most suitable support arrangements for the Mayor & Councillors and the decision-making process, reflecting changing roles under the new mayoral system;

x       Address changes in work demands and gaps in provision that have been identified since the last reorganisation in 2007;

x       Ensure that staffing structures and job descriptions reflect the roles that will be required going forward;

x       Simplify job descriptions, improve flexibility and provide development and learning opportunities for staff; and

x       Maximise the use of ICT by both Members and officers, increase efficiency and eliminate waste.

Subject to consultation under the Council’s agreed procedures it is projected that the reorganisation could result in the deletion of up to 6 existing posts in 2011/12 (2 posts in the committee team, 2 posts in Members services and 2 posts in the Admin support team).

This will lead to budget savings of £158k in 2011/12 (excluding funding for new posts in the Mayor’s Office).

2B. Reduction in non-staffing budgets

Alongside the reorganisation of the team, a range of savings are proposed in non-staffing expenditure in order to achieve the savings required. These non-staffing savings total over £160k p.a..

In the main the non-staffing savings relate to printing; stationery and other office expenses; and support services to Members.

There are also proposals for reductions in expenditure on Member Learning and Development (by reduced use of external events, more on-line training and restrictions on conference attendance); and in the level of Members’ Allowances, by at least 5% (i.e. extending the cut already agreed in respect of Special Responsibility Allowances to the Basic Allowance as well).

The full breakdown of proposed non-staffing savings is as follows:-

Reduction in stationery budget (Committee & Members Support): £7.7k

Reduced staff transport costs: £3.0k

Deletion of Agency Staff budget: £10k

Deletion of Interview Expenses budget: £2k

Refreshments: £22k (90% already implemented) Reduction in Chair of Council’s expenses: at least £15k

Reduction in Member Learning & Development budget: £15.6k

Reduction in printing (committee agendas etc): £22.5k

Review of Members’ Allowances: at least £40.8k

Reduction in non-staffing support to Members: at least £22k

Further details and service implications of these reductions are set out below.

2. Service implications of saving:

Mayor’s Office

The reorganisation of the Democratic Services Teams will establish a Mayor’s Office to undertake the necessary support services for the Mayor and Deputy Mayor including policy, strategy and communications advice, research and briefing, community liaison, diary management, PA, executive and casework support.

The structure will reflect the fact that more enquiries will go to the Mayor as a focus for Executive decisions.

New policy will be lead by the Mayor and Mayor represents to the Borough to local Regional and National Stakeholders.

In relation to support for non-executive Councillors, the service review and associated budget reductions will give rise to a number of changes in the level of support provided:-

Members Enquiries and direct support

x       Processing of Members’ Enquiries (MEs) for all Councillors, including the Scrutiny Lead Members, will transfer to the Members’ Services Team.

x       However, the range of tasks undertaken in relation to MEs will reduce. Staff will continue to receive MEs and process them to the relevant department but will not send an acknowledgement, nor a copy of the response, to the resident concerned.

All communications or correspondence between the Councillor and his/her constituent will be the responsibility of the Councillor him/herself.

x       Members’ Enquiries will not be accepted where the information requested can be easily obtained by other means such as referring to the Council’s website or Members’ Intranet. All ‘Streetline’ enquiries will be directed to the telephone hotline. Other categories of enquires may be identified that will not be accepted in the ME system including (subject to further discussion on the detail) enquires to external organisations including the Police and RSLs. A bank of previous responses (anonymised) will be available on the Intranet for reference to avoid repeat enquiries.

x       The aim is to move towards a situation where a formal ME is increasingly seen as a last resort. It is expected that the above measures will result in a reduction in the number of MEs of up to 35% which it will be possible for a reduced number of staff in the new Councillor Support Team to handle. In addition, experience in neighbouring boroughs with a Mayoral system suggests that an increasing number and proportion of enquiries will flow directly to the Mayor’s Office.

x       Work will also commence on the development of a web-based enquiry form that will, alongside a dedicated contact centre hotline, enable the Members’ Enquiry system to move onto a fully automated, self-service basis within one year.

x       PA support for the Scrutiny Lead Members will be withdrawn. PA support for the Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be provided by the clerk to the committee.

x       The Councillors’ timesheet system will be put on-line for Members to complete themselves without officer assistance.

Meetings support

x       The Committee team will reduce in size and its management structure will be rationalised. The team will prioritise clerking and other support for the formal Constitutional meetings only (i.e. Council, Cabinet, formal Committees and Panels) and associated meetings including the Mayor’s Advisory Board, although it is intended that the latter meeting will become more informal in nature and will not require detailed minuting, except in its Cabinet pre-agenda role.

x       The Team will no longer provide support for CMT, MABG, nor for Social Services Complaints Review, Secure Accommodation Panel, Corporate Parenting Steering Group or other officer-led or non-constitutional meetings to be determined.

x       Hard copy agendas will provided only on request and only to Members of the Committee concerned (for Cabinet meetings, Cabinet Members plus O&S Committee members) plus one per relevant Directorate. All other agenda distribution will be electronic.

x       The deletion of all refreshments at meetings will be continued and will be extended to any meetings not already covered.

x       The team will also support the new statutory petitions and e-petitions scheme, the programme of Members seminars and Members’ IT provision

x       The Democratic Services team will no longer provide any support for the Education Appeals function (subject to further discussion on possible funding from Children, Schools and Families)

Councillor support/facilities

x       Financial support for Members’ Surgeries venue hire will be capped at £15 per member per month.

x       ‘Free’ business cards will be limited to 250 per Councillor per year. Any additional printing required will be charged to the Councillor.

x       Members will no longer be issued with free diaries x         There is currently no budget for the provision of members IT equipment and this will need to be addressed in 2013/14. In the meantime all IT or phone replacement costs caused by damage or loss of equipment issued by the Council will be recharged to the Councillor

x       Responsibility for purchasing IT consumables including printer cartridges will transfer to the individual Councillors.

x       The courier delivery to Councillors will be reduced from three times to once a week.

x       The proposed reduction to the Member Learning and Development budget will require less use of external training and restrictions on conference attendance alongside increased use of on-line and other self-directed learning programmes).

Civic/Ceremonial functions

x       The total ‘Chair of Council’ budgeted expenditure in 2010/11 is £82.7k.

x       It is proposed that the annual Chair of Council’s Reception (traditionally held immediately after the Annual Council Meeting in May) and the Civic Awards ceremony will be discontinued.

x       The Chair’s Charity Ball will be held on a strictly self-financing basis.

x       Other Civic/Ceremonial engagements and attendance at events will be subject to a new protocol and an annual cash-limited budget

x       Chair of Council’s crests will be restricted to 12 per year.

x       We will cancel the lease car and instead contract with a vehicle hire company to provide suitable transport as required by the Chair of Council and the Mayor

3. Actions required to achieve saving:

Consultation (with staff and members) and subsequent implementation of staffing reorganisation.

Communication of changes to Member support arrangements. Develop IT-based solution for self-service Members’ Enquiries. Development of specification and tendering of car hire contract.

In relation to any proposal to change the level of Members’ Allowances the agreement of the Council Meeting will be required.

4. Potential implications for staff, contractors, partners, assets and other

Directorates:

Some service directorates may need to make alternative arrangements to clerk meetings currently supported by the Democratic Services Committee Team (CE’s office in the case of CMT meetings).

Councillors will receive reduced allowances, will have reduced access to some (external) Learning and Development activities and will be required to undertake (and pay for) more of their support services.

The Children, Schools and Families directorate will need to make alternative arrangements for support to the Education Appeals process (unless funding can be made available to provide the service, or a client-side function, within Democratic Services).

The Chair of Council will undertake fewer community engagements.

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