One Council Programme
- Meeting of Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday 15 September 2010 7.30 pm (Item 5.)
The Director of Policy and Regeneration will provide members with an overview of the projects in the One Council Programme. This will include information about the benefits being sought including progress to date.
Phil Newby (Director of Policy and Regeneration) advised Members that the One Council Programme had been introduced two years ago to improve the Council both in terms of efficiency and performance and enhance the Council’s ability to deliver its’ Corporate Strategy. The economic downturn had obliged the Council to refocus on generating savings and reconsideration of decisions previously made, such the Council Tax freeze, needed to be undertaken as the Budget Gap had increased to £80 million. Members heard that a project management approach was being taken to deliver the One Council Programme, and projects were chosen that would meet the following objectives:-
· Making changes to the Council
· Making the Council fitter for purpose
· Driving efficiencies
Phil Newby advised that consideration was being given as to providing services in a more efficient way and how things could be done differently to generate savings. Members heard that 50 officers worked on developing the Programme which was overseen by the Project Management Office. Emphasis on service improvements remained but through using less resources.
Phil Newby then referred to a document on the One Council Programme circulated at the meeting which outlined projects at tranches one, two and three, with each tranche representing projects at concept, business and delivery stages respectively. Amongst those at tranche one, the Finance Modernisation project’s objective was to achieve £1.5 million savings a year, whilst the Customer Contact project which aimed to reduce unnecessary and repeated customer contact would be critical in delivering savings and efficiencies. With regard to tranche two, the Income Maximisation project would consider if a charge for a service would be appropriate and/or what is a reasonable charge, whilst the Children’s Social Care Transformation project would look at issues such as fostering. In respect of tranche three, the Carbon Management project sought to minimise financial penalisations due to CO2 emissions, whilst the Total Place project considered joint budgeting arrangements with the Council’s partners. Members also noted that the Willesden Green project focused on creating a focal customer point in the south of the Borough and representing the Council’s second centre. Phil Newby stressed the need to move more projects to tranche three so that progress could be made on bridging the Budget Gap. Members noted that the Council was on target to meet the £4.5 million savings this year which took account of cost of delivery such as HR costs and external support. Any projects which bought in external support would be required to generate additional savings to cover the cost of such support.
With the approval of the Chair, Councillor S Chouhary addressed the Committee. He enquired whether the Council could consider increasing the Council Tax by more than three per cent.
During Members’ discussion, Councillor A Choudry enquired on the likelihood of the One Council Programme in delivering the objectives in terms of bridging the Budget Gap and asked how savings would be measured. He commented that each department had responsibility for ensuring that the services it ran met required standards and would need to use their discretion over staff changes to deliver savings. Councillor A Choudry suggested that an update be provided to Members before future meetings on the progress of the One Council Programme, including savings made to date and future projections. Councillor Van Kalwala added that the Programme was also considered by the One Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee and he suggested that Members could attend meetings of that Committee if they were interested in receiving updates on this item. He enquired whether the £4.5 million savings for this year would address further reduction in grants and if not, where further savings could be identified. He asked what monitoring arrangements were in place to see if projects were delivering and what would the impact of these be on residents. Councillor Mashari commented that independent foster carers who had demonstrated competency were being asked to provide feedback on specific childcare services.
The Chair enquired what percentage of non face to face customer contact was proposed in respect of the Customer Contact project and would face to face contact remain available. He asked what the projected savings were with regard to review of back office functions and when would further information be available on this issue. With regard to staff reward and performance, he asked if the changes would be implemented Council-wide and was the objective entirely savings based and if so what savings would be generated. Views were sought on the implications on staff morale and motivation in respect of salary freezes and cuts to allowances. The Chair expressed concern about the impact on services through changes made through the Programme and he welcomed Members views as to how they would like this issue scrutinised, adding that it was important to understand the implications on services.
In response, Phil Newby stressed that services had to be improved, with areas such as customer contact particularly important, whilst also reducing costs. It was imperative that the One Council Programme delivered as this was the main tool to achieve the necessary savings. Phil Newby explained that all spending had been costed and savings made were all recordable, with savings figures from the Strategic Property Review already starting to come in. With regard to customer contact, Phil Newby stated that the proportion of face to face and non face contact would be available in future, with the focus on ensuring easier access for the customer. Members noted that the Council had greater face to face contact than other boroughs and although there were some services where face to face contact was necessary and beneficial, there were other services where this type of contact could be reduced. Phil Newby suggested that information on the Customer Contact model design would be available by the beginning of next year. With regard to back office arrangements, Members heard that a notional figure of £0.5 million savings had been identified in respect of the Brent Business Support project, although consideration would be given as to whether further savings could be made, whilst more savings would be generated from the Staffing and Structure project. Members noted that Wave Two of the Staffing and Structure project was taking place over the autumn and an update on it would be available in the New Year. Phil Newby confirmed that the changes in respect of reward and performance would be Council-wide and would be focusing on staff costs, such as allowances, overtime arrangements and salaries. He stated that the additional savings required since further Government cuts would be obtained through considering what services could be scaled down or even stopped altogether, whilst a Fundamental Review of Festivals was also taking place.
Duncan McLeod added that the target budget figure for 2010/11 had been set by the Council meeting in March, however subsequent Government reductions to some grants had required a further saving of £5.4 million and he stated that it would be desirable if some projects over delivered in order to generate additional savings. He advised that the Government intended to withdraw the option currently available to local authorities to apply for approval to increase Council Tax by more than three per cent and he added that consideration of increasing Council Tax would be a crucial one. With regard to staff reward and performance, Duncan McLeod advised that this would involve a process of standardisation on a number of Human Resources issues, such as Terms and Conditions of Service, performance management of staff, overtime arrangements and a fairer and more transparent pay structure. These changes were necessary because of the financial pressures the Council faced. Duncan McLeod acknowledged that salary freezes and reductions in allowances may potentially have a de-motivating effect on some staff, however some officers may be de-motivated by the fact that officers in some areas were getting paid more for similar levels of responsibility and such changes would address this.