Sunday, 20 October 2013

Council Chief Executive Appointment

I have just spent two days as a member of the panel selecting the new Chief Executive for Cornwall Council. The appointment of the Chief Executive is a political hot potato and I am sure that played some part in me being singled out to chair the panel. But councillors are here to make decisions and I will not duck my responsibilities.

The new Chief Executive is Andrew Kerr, the Chief Operating Officer at Cardiff City Council. Prior to that he was Chief Executive at Wiltshire Council until the (Conservative) leader decided that she did not need a chief executive at all - an idea which has been rejected by Cornwall Council. Prior to that he was the Chief Executive at North Tyneside Council.

I know that many people feel that we ought to be able to find a Cornish person to do this job. But, even if it were legal to discriminate in favour of a suitable Cornish candidate, I think that, in facing the enormous financial challenges ahead of us, having a very experienced Chief Executive will benefit us.

I also think that with a mixed bag political coalition in charge of Cornwall, with no clear agenda, the Council cannot manage without a Chief Executive.

The most important factor is to act promptly in order to safeguard Council services as best we can.

I think that Andrew's approach will be persuasive rather than confrontational and I hope that he can start on the job as quickly as possible. I understand that he is not immediately going to move his family here because he has children at critical schooling ages. That is an entirely personal matter.

I am pleased that his salary will be about 20 per cent less than that paid to Kevin Lavery. Still a lot of money I am afraid, but we have managed to take advantage of the market drop in salary levels for chief executives.

I wish Mr. Kerr the very best of luck.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Lies, more lies and statistics

The Council's bite size budget guide claims that we have made large savings in the last Council by, amongst other things, reducing our workforce from 22,000 to 14,000. We did make big savings - £170million.

The reduction in staffing sounds like a truly impressive statistic if we were doing the same with 2/3 of the staff. But it is highly misleading.

In fact 4000 (18 per cent) of the reduction relates to the transfer of teaching staff to academies. The schools make that decision and their pay is not part of our net budget.

We transferred almost 3000 staff to companies generally wholly owned by the Council- so no staff saving there.

Overall redundancies to achieve efficiencies were about 1000 out of a total of 10700 (22000 less the schools staff)- so more like 10% than the 33% quoted in the guide.

Newquay Meeting - Update

I said that at the Newquay meeting someone had raised the issue of the value of 63 officers attending one meeting.

I can now confirm that the actual number is 68 , most of them are Cornwall Council - but not all.

Mabe - Budget Meeting, 3rd October

Mabe Last Night

Attended the Mabe Budget event last night - 2 Council officers, 6 Cornwall Councillors and 12 good and true members of the public.

I had to leave early but by the time I left I no-one had suggested any Council services they would like to be cut - the fundamental question that Cllr Folkes was asking- although someone suggested moving to fortnightly bin collections.

A participant asked Cllr Folkes to consider again whether savings could be made by not building an incinerator. Another committee is going to look at this but Cornwall Waste Forum's consultants have still not said why they think residual waste (left after maximum recycling) would go to landfill with tax at £2 a ton. Everybody else advises that it would be £80 a ton, which would drive a coach and horse through their savings.

Someone suggested more use of video conferencing etc to reduce business mileage. This is a proposal that I have made on a number of occasions.

It was suggested that staff be allowed to go part time to save money. Apparently they can if they are over 55 years old.

No one had suggested cutting the number of councillors by the time I left. It is perfectly true that this is not in our power. However, the point made by a member of the public at a previous meeting was that the costs of councillors are much greater than our allowances/expenses. There are the more indirect expenses - for example, many meetings attended by numerous highly paid officers. We would have more concept of the value of officers' time if we measured what it costs the Cornish taxpayer.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

6% Budget Increase

Only six per cent?

I was sorry to miss the discussion on Laurence Reed show yesterday about Cllr Bob Egerton's motion to raise council tax by six per cent.

As the supporters of the motion had not decided what they wanted the money for I am not sure how they reached the view that six per cent would cover it.

I do not believe that people in Cornwall could afford it and I cannot support it.

Although I am not surprised to see this motion from Bob - generally speaking history has shown that independent councillors tend to be in favour of council tax hikes - I was surprised to see UKIP supporting a discussion around 6 per cent.

The UKIP 2013 Election manifesto promised a “smaller state with lower taxes”. So is this just a local case of forgetfulness?

Budget Meeting - Newquay

Last night I attended a Budget Consultation in Newquay - one of a series of 23. There were 7 Cornwall Councillors (including the Leader), a good attendance from Newquay Town Council, three Council officers (including the Corporate Director for Environment) and about 6 valiant members of the public.

There were a number of empty seats

There were no suggestions as to which Council services might be cut - which was the fundamental question. But there was a suggestion that the number of councillors be cut.

Cllr Folkes said that members' allowances were a mere 0.4 per cent of the Budget. That is still over £2 million - so equal to more than half the total budget for leisure centres.

Of course, as someone remarked, our true cost is much higher when you consider all the meetings we have etc.. Personally, I think that it would be a good idea to start measuring those costs. Democracy is very important but cost is an issue, and we cannot control what we don’t measure.

Several expressed concern about staff (especially excess layers of management) and staff pensions. Cllr Folkes said that he was looking at it but not for this budget. Indeed, he suggested that, as the pension scheme was so expensive, one option would be to close it to new members. So cuts to services now but looking at staff later. That this is what the Secretary of State Eric Pickles refers to as a 'lazy choice'.

There was a feeling of lack of trust in the Council. Had it really done all it could to save money by efficiencies? I, for one, think that the Council could do better and that is where to start. A member of Newquay Town Council referred to two events held in Newquay this year which required a sign off from Cornwall Council. He said that 63 officers of the Council had to be invited to a meeting on these events.