Council efficiency reform plans come under fire

The government’s “radical” 10-point plan to help councils create efficiencies is akin to “teaching people to suck eggs” and does not provide HR with any extra support to avoid job cuts, experts have warned.

Last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government published the 10-point plan of “radical efficiency reforms”, advising councils on how they should look to make savings.

The document followed the publication of a survey by the BBC, which found up to 10% of council jobs could be cut over the next five years.

But council HR directors and local government experts reacted with bemusement towards the plan.

Stephen Moir, corporate director of people, policy and law at Cambridgeshire County Council – which will cut 300 jobs over the next five years – said: “We are doing all 10 points and then some, so it doesn’t tell me anything new or give me new thoughts to take forward for my organisation.

“There is nothing in there that’s significant or will have a huge impact. For councils which have done a lot of work around these areas, that will probably mean they will have to reduce the number of jobs they have, because they don’t have many other costs they can further control.”

Moir called on the government to publish best practice data from private sector firms that had successfully gone through efficiency programmes “rather than just covering the same messages”.

Gillian Hibberd, president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association and HR director of Buckinghamshire County Council – which is cutting 400 jobs over the next three years – added the document was just “a summary of what [councils] are actually doing at the moment”.

10-point plan to create efficiencies

  1. Council services must be focused on the customer.
  2. Take a Total Place approach to front-line services.
  3. Make services more efficient – cutting out waste and unnecessary duplication.
  4. Check performance against others and learn from who is doing it better.
  5. Buy goods and services in groups, using that buying power to create local benefits.
  6. Reduce the number of council buildings by locating more services together.
  7. Motivate staff to perform to the best of their ability.
  8. Make managers leaders of innovation to improve services.
  9. Streamline management. Consider splitting senior posts with other councils or primary care trusts.
  10. Share professional expertise and ensure council staff are able to be flexibly deployed.

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

“There’s a slight tone of teaching people to suck eggs,” she said. “There’s nothing new in there that is revolutionary, so I think it was probably more of a political statement than anything else. We are already doing it, so we are doing all we can to protect jobs. The plan contains nothing new that will give us any advantage.”

A spokesman for the Local Government Association agreed that the plan failed to go far enough. “All the back-office savings you can do will still lead to the fact that you can’t get to 15-20% savings in real terms,” he said. “If you did these things to the best example, it won’t address that. [The plan] needs to be far more wide-ranging and reaching than this sets out.”

However, there was some support for the plan. Graham White, HR director at Westminster City Council, said it contained “excellent ideas” that many councils were not adequately addressing.

“It’s time local authorities were challenged to deliver against these points,” he said. “This is something the National Audit Office needs to pick up on.”

John Denham, local government secretary, said: “Local people will rightly be intolerant if they are told that front-line services will be cut because their council hasn’t done everything suggested.”

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