UNISON’s response to WSCC budget
UNISON West Sussex commented on WSCC’s budget plans, debated on 12 December, to cut £39million in 2015/16 and £30million in 2016/17.
“The chickens are now coming home to roost,” said Branch Secretary Dan Sartin. “The council has adopted a short-sighted policy for several years of freezing council tax. The effect of this can now be seen as the budget available to the council has shrunk, and cuts need to be made far deeper than would have been necessary had there been modest annual tax increases.”
Dan continued, “The council does not know with any certainty where they will find these eye-watering sums. £49million (71%) of the £69million that must be found is listed by the Council as being ‘amber’. They define that as ‘medium risk’, but the truth is that these £49million cuts are not part of any detailed plans. No real work has been done yet on many of the budget lines. It is finger in the air time.”
“Many of these ‘amber’ cuts will destabilise local businesses as the council seeks to drive down the costs of its contracts. If there is no fat to trim, service quality could fall and the wages of locally-employed staff are liable to be hit.
“Another swathe of ‘amber’ cuts are preventative by nature. It’s true that prevention is better than cure, but prevention takes time to work and cannot magic up multi-million pound savings in budgets overnight.
“And then there is another tier of ‘amber cuts’ which, if they can be achieved, will be downright dangerous for local residents, such as closing or outsourcing essential care and day centres.”
UNISON set out examples of its ‘amber’ concerns in three categories:
1. Very risky or dangerous:
- Special Educational Needs redesign (£315,000) The SENAT team was redesigned during 2014 and is struggling to cope with the new statutory requirements on the council to provide education, health & care plans. Further cuts could be disastrous.
- Redesign of Facilities Management Services (£335,000) West Sussex schools are already reeling from the council having outsourced their IT and payroll services to Capita plc, with headteachers formally bringing their concerns to the council. The possible outsourcing of the council’s building management services for schools will be a further concern for headteachers.
- Support Services activities, Capita contract (£60,000) Reducing the numbers of posts which monitor the massive multi-million pound Capita contract (which saw the outsourcing of 600 council staff in 2012) is a very bad idea at a time when the council knows that significant parts of that contract are not performing well.
- Review options for directly provided services (£1,140,000) The threat of closure or outsourcing to the council’s own exemplary providers of day services to disabled and elderly people, as well as New Tyne dementia resource centre in Worthing and Marjorie Cobby rehabilitation centre in Selsey, will be a huge concern for vulnerable people and their families.
- SSO Contract/Customer Engagement (£3,380,000) The council proposes to transform residents’ ‘customer experience’ when they access council services, while cutting over £3million at the same time. The council wishes to work with Capita plc to achieve this, but already knows that substantial areas of its existing contract with Capita are not working as they should.
2. Driving down the costs of suppliers:
- Placement cost reduction for Children Looked After (£1,170,000) It is proposed to drive down costs of these important contracts for vulnerable children by 10%.
- Reprocurement and contract management (£1,000,000) The council’s Community Equipment Service, providing home adaptations and equipment to disabled and older people and previously outsourced to Nottingham Rehab Supplies, is up for re-tender. Can £1,000,000 savings be squeezed from the contract without affecting the service or staff? How will savings be shared with the council’s partner to the contract, the NHS?
- Reprocure waste (£4,250,000) It is proposed to make huge savings on the council’s contracts for delivering strategic waste and recycling activities, but no details are given.
- Review of top contracts (£3,750,000) Again, huge savings are proposed to be made from a range of council contracts, but no details are given.
- Focus on prevention, in Health & Adult Social Care (£2,450,000) A focus on prevention is planned to provide £2.45million savings during 2015/16. No further information is available.
- Focus on prevention (£6,310,000) Huge savings are earmarked by identifying ‘synergies’ and approaches to prevention in the new Care, Education and Wellbeing Directorate, but no detail is available whatsoever.
Dan Sartin continued, “We’re entering the unknown here. The Council does not know if it can achieve these huge cuts, and it has piled the pressure on itself by obsessively following the diktats on council tax from Tory Central Office. Residents will suffer if these cuts objectives are met. And of course, if these cuts cannot be achieved, cuts will be found from other essential council services to balance the books. It will be a rocky period ahead, and local government as we know it in West Sussex will look very different by the end of the current administration in 2017.”