Opinion: Pulling the plug on swimming pools?

Over the last week, we’ve all focussed on welfare issues, tuition fees and housing. The impact of the 7% pa cut in local government funding has yet to register with most of us.

Each council will make its own decisions on how to deal with a total grant reduction of 28% over four years. Coverage will be local, so the public will inevitably blame councillors rather than ministers when popular services disappear.

The media have been, inaccurately, talking about a 28% cut in council budgets (rather than in funding) – it’s not quite as bad as that, although it will still be very difficult to manage. Anything from 30% to 70% of a council’s budget comes from government grant; the rest is collected through council tax. On average, the funding cuts will mean a budget reduction of around 14% over four years.

The local government minister, Grant Shapps, has said that councils should be ‘cutting waste, crazy non-jobs and sharing back office services’ before they cut frontline services. Maybe this provides a narrative for Daily Mail readers, but does he really know what is going on in town halls? Unlike central government departments, most councils have been suffering cuts for years. They have already integrated back office functions and robustly tackled waste. Non-jobs, if they ever existed, disappeared long ago.

So where can savings be made?

In years of plenty, councils have developed projects that enhance the lives of residents, beyond statutory requirements, and these will be most at risk.

So will it be farewell to funding for the arts, playgrounds, parks, holiday activities for children, youth clubs, museums, day nurseries, even libraries? How many council-run swimming pools, leisure centres, sports grounds and care homes will be offloaded to the private sector? On top of that, core services like road maintenance and street lighting could well have to manage on less.

Beyond these savings, everyone will be looking for solutions through working with other public services. This is not a new idea. Joint commissioning with the NHS and police has been in place for some time, especially in children’s services and adult social care.

It also makes sense to share buildings and posts, by creating multi-agency community hubs. These can be good for residents as well as for the providers. For example, when the educational, medical and social care services for disabled children and their families are integrated on one site, not only can savings be made, but the lives of the families are improved. They are able to access all the services they need in one place, guided by a key worker with a holistic understanding of the child’s needs.

But it’s going to be tough, and not a good time to be a councillor, I’m afraid.

In May, Mary Reid stood down as a councillor in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames after serving for 13 years. She blogs on www.maryreid.org.uk

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13 Comments

  • LeftLeaning 30th Oct '10 - 2:17pm

    Good article Mary.

    “In years of plenty, councils have developed projects that enhance the lives of residents, beyond statutory requirements, and these will be most at risk”

    I found this very sad and depresssing. I just returned from a week in Sweden and I have to say I fear for the future of this country under this coalition government. If indeed there was an option to be taken regarding reducing the pace of these cuts and it wasn’t taken, I find that incredibly cruel and frustrating.

    Why do I get the impression that this government is trying to do the worst thing they can get away with, rather than trying to enhance the lives of its own citizens. Where are the inspirational leaders of yesteryear? The lot in government now treat the country as a private business venture. If it isn’t value for money for the treasury, then its got to go. I despair at the thought of Andy Coulson being brought in to manipulate us – the citizens of this great nation.

    The whole thing is just too slimy for my liking.

  • I think Mary has been mislead by the efficiency of a Liberal Democrat council like Kingston into thinking that other council are the same.
    labour councils are are still wasting money – one of the 7 ‘key’ jobs Manchester is advertising at the moment is for someone to run their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
    Our minority council in Merton wanted to take the council reserves and spend them on a rebate to council tax payers (happily stopped by a coalition of LDs, Tories and Residents)/
    Sickness absence is often much higher than in the private sector-what about tightening up there.
    yes 14% will mean some tough decisions – what about starting by stopping all the council newspapers and reducing their press departments to one person ?Every litle helps.

  • LeftLeaning 30th Oct '10 - 2:25pm

    SMcG,

    Is there something inherrent in a Labour Councillor that makes them waste money? Or could it be you have been looking out for Labour Councils wasting money so you can use it as a stick to beat them with. I am sure if you looked at all the councils in this country, it won’t be just labour councils that are wasteful.

    This whole ‘Labour is wasteful’ business wasn’t spotted by the LibDems and Tories until 2008 but now it’s the in-thing. Believe it or not, Gordon Brown, Darling and Byrne are a zillion times more economically sound than Cameron, Osborne and Alexander(alexander FFS).

  • Andrew Suffield 30th Oct '10 - 3:03pm

    So will it be farewell to funding for the arts, playgrounds, parks, holiday activities for children, youth clubs, museums, day nurseries, even libraries?

    I doubt it.

  • .
    @SMcG
    “…one of the 7 ‘key’ jobs Manchester is advertising at the moment is for someone to run their Facebook and Twitter accounts.”

    I looked and couldn’t find any such position. These are the vacancies currently on their website:

    Support Assistant – homeless services.
    Governing Body Clerks – pool of five clerks to work on supply/as-and-when basis.
    Trading Standards Specialist – Manchester Trading Standards Service
    Education Assistant – community programme
    Centre Worker Level 3 – part time – children’s services
    Centre Worker Level 2 – full time – children’s services
    Centre Worker Level 2 – part time – children’s services

    Do you have a link please?

  • ….continued

    Oops – didn’t copy+paste this one:
    Supervising Social Worker – Fostering services

  • Here it is. No mention of Facebook or Twitter.

    New Media Communications Manager
    Grade 9 £35,430 to £38,961 (bar at £38,042)
    Ref: NB50721321/11
    Location: Number One First Street, Manchester, M15 4FN
    Hours: 35 per week
    Permanent
    Working alongside our Internal and External Communications Managers, you will help to develop and run corporate communication and marketing campaigns exploiting innovative new media solutions. You will also act as a strategic new media consultant to Council departments, underpinning the quality and reach of our campaigns. In addition to identifying the appropriate techniques and improving all our web-based communication, you will work to ensure the presentation of a strong, consistent image to support the Manchester City Council brand. The formation of strong working relationships with colleagues and external stakeholders will be a vital part of the role.
    In addition to significant new media marketing experience in communicating to a range of stakeholders and professional knowledge demonstrated by a CIM or equivalent qualification, you should have a strong history of planning, delivering and evaluating campaigns in this field. A through knowledge of the market and evaluation methodology is essential, as is a successful track record in budget management. You will also need proven staff and project management skills. Inclusive in style and focused on quality, you should be committed to continuous improvement both in the service and in yourself.
    We welcome applications from people wishing to job share.
    Apply online http://www.manchester.gov.uk/jobs. Application forms: 0161 227 3373.
    Closing Date: Wednesday 20 October 2010

  • >you will help to develop and run corporate communication and marketing campaigns exploiting innovative new media solutions.
    etc etc etc

    I guess an ability to understand jargon is a key requirement for anyone applying for this post 😉

    >you will work to ensure the presentation of a strong, consistent image to support the Manchester City Council brand.

    The council is a brand???

  • @RichardSM – you really think that this is one of the top priority jobs at the moment? No wonder labour increased government spending by 53% in real terms over 13 years.
    @Leftleaning ‘is there something inherrent in a Labour Councillor that makes them waste money?’ yes of course there is. Labour are quite happy to spend and spend, frequently with the aim of bribing the electorate, without any sense of value. They are too cowardly to raise taxes so they borrow instead. The last 13 years they were like a teenager with a credit card.

  • @SMcG
    There’s a growing trend to doing more and more things online. Haven’t you noticed this yet?

    People are increasingly applying for jobs – online; applying for school places – online; notifying change of address – online; booking bulky refuse collections – online. Business tendering has become e-tendering. Changes to building control regs are immediately available – online. And so much more.You really need to bring yourself up-to-date. It’s much quicker. No more waiting for the postman to arrive!

  • SMcG,

    Manchester’s New Media Communications Manager will be paid a heck of a lot less than the contract people who perform the same functions in many LAs, and very, very much less than the equivalent in the private sector. If councils are to get rid of their free newspapers, as you demand, then they will presumably require people capable of broadcasting public information through the web. This looks a perfectly worthwhile job to me. Those looking for waste in local government would be better to focus on the unnecessary use of consultants and poorly negotiated contracts.

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