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Ealing and Northfield

Labour’s stupid budget

I have just spent another couple of hours looking at the budget papers, here. The first impression I get is that this is a either a stunningly ideological or a tragically stupid budget. This budget insists that less must mean less. Little attempt has been made to do more for less. As I said a week ago this budget is the equivalent of cutting off each finger, each toe, your nose and ears and sticking pins in your eyes in order to “distribute any cuts as equally as possible”. There are no big ideas, no strategy in these documents, just a tactical “cut everything” approach. Labour’s approach is calculated to make everyone involved in the council, whether as a provider or user of services, feel pain.

I did word searches through the documents for the words “hours”, “terms” and “conditions”, “holiday”, and “sickness”. They do not appear in the documents in the context of tightening up the council’s somewhat lax terms of employment. 35 hour weeks and long holidays remain in place. There is no attempt to build on the Tories’ good record of bearing down on sickness over four years.

The words “shared services” do not appear in the documents except for one unquantified possible future saving in the tiny HR department, an area where people have been doing shared services for years.

It is clear that only minor attempts have been made to clear out the heads of service layer of management where the council spends £6.8 million on 77 people, £88K per head, see here. Maybe five to ten posts. We are talking about 10%. Yet this layer of management could be radically reduced and the effectiveness of whole groups of staff improved by aligning the organisation to classes of users rather than siloed services.

On the other hand the council is proposing a massacre of frontline services that the public really appreciates. The parks front line is being reduced from 27 to 14, a cut of 48% with the popular ranger role disappearing. The envirocrime officers, whose role is not universally well understood but nonetheless key to ensuring that the borough is clean and well ordered, are being reduced from a team of 26 to 15, a cut of 42%. The team that run our community centres is being cut from 19 to 10, a cut of 47%.

The budget does have a go at union facility time, something I have written about here. But the cut in facility time is only 20% compared to frontline service cuts of 40-50%.

One of the most brutal cuts is the “invest to save” proposal which aims save £5.8 million by hiring bureaucrats with tick lists on clipboards to say no to disabled people and keep them out of the system. The language is not designed to inform:

Placement Reviews and gate keeping – Following investment in additional review officers.

I have previously explained how the council’s loss of 28% of its government grant translates into a cut in total expenditure of 5%. These frontline cuts are out of proportion with the total overall cuts. Labour are taking us for a ride.