The big talking point at the last council meeting was council tax. This debate is a proxy for financial management in general and control of spending in particular. Unfortunately the members of the new Labour group are particularly unsuited to the hard job that faces them over the next four years.
My Daily Mail front page above (click to enlarge) is only one piece of coverage for a report from Policy Exchange put out today. It found that public sector pay has risen by 33% in real terms between 2002 and 2009, at something like three times the rate of the private sector. Whilst private sector productivity increased in that time, public sector productivity fell leaving the public sector some 2/3rds as productive as the private sector.
These facts tell us simply how our council can square the circle of protecting services whilst dealing with tight funding rounds and freezing the council tax for four years the way it proposes to freeze councillorsâ€™ allowances for four years (quite right). The Policy Exchange paper proposes freezing public sector pay for four years. This is something the council should look at very hard although it would be appropriate to protect the lowest paid from this I feel.
A very senior officer of the council told me this year that he thought that the council could take 20% out of its cost base by merely equalising terms and conditions with the private sector, for instance only paying people a flat rate and doing away with layers of anti-social hours payments, etc. Add this kind of change to pay restraint and the council could withstand really quite eye watering grant changes and a long term freeze in council tax. There is no reason to cut services.
There is a big problem though. Our ruling Labour group is heavily infiltrated by unionism. 25 out of 40 Labour councillors admit to union membership in their declarations of interest. 10 of them belong to the largest union, Unite, which is currently doing its best to destroy airline BA.