Why pennies do matter

The best way to start a blog is often with a cliche. Look after the pennies, we are told, however contrast this to the claim often thrown at those in opposition – you’re missing the big picture. Can you do both? Of course – anyone who decides to forgo their small indulgences in favour of saving for a house, a car, a holiday is doing just that. So why the brickbats when a councillor suggests a bit of care with small budgets?

One of the first blogs I ever wrote focused on my confusion as a new councillor at the amount of letters I get from in response to emails I’ve sent. Why can’t you email me back? I appreciate that some things have to be sent as a letter – but the ultimate snub surely to cost effectiveness is to say that one letter to one person won’t break the budget, as I have been told recently by one organisation in response to a Freedom of Information request I made. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Redundancy Process In Turmoil

Stoke-on-Trent City Council appear to be in a state of utter disarray around the officer & staff redundancies.

In the supposed culture of openness and transparency that seems to be mentioned at every available opportunity something seems to be lacking.
According to page 31 of the reports pack for the Improving Communities O&S Committee that sat on 25 January, everyone is fully aware and supportive of the redundancies.

Trade Union representatives are broadly aware of this approach and supportive as it is designed to ensure all staff in NM and Housing Services are fairly considered for a reduced number of job opportunities.

In fact the union representatives are so aware of the approach that they felt the need to issue the following statement to the effected staff by E-mail
I have not seen the new proposals nor have I been briefed on the details. It is proposed that I will see the proposals on a Tuesday afternoon, the date is yet to be decided and the staff will see them on Wednesday.

So if everything is so open and transparent why is the union saying they have never seen the proposals?

Sources within the council have told Pits n Pots that since the redundancy process started they have heard nothing or seen very little in official documents.

The first round of consultations was for tiers down to 3 & 4. Whilst there was overall numbers in the documentation that came out on 1st November, the documentation for this showed the structure and which roles had been deleted within the HENS directorate, including those of staff who have still not been officially informed of their redundancy.

Whilst there was overall numbers in the documentation that came out on 1st November, there were no pooling or placements lists. When these did arrive they were full or errors and/or ommissions.

We were supposed to be having meetings last week but these were cancelled, we had been told that the meeting would be this week but there is a rumour going around that it will be next week at the earliest

Other sources have told Pits n Pots that they don’t believe the documents and staffing numbers were even finalised until well into the consultation period which is why the unions have been stating they didn’t deem the consultation period to have started until the lists were available.

Back in September Stoke-on-Trent City Council announced the shake up and reduction of directorates providing an implementation timetable

1 September – Proposals issued to affected staff and (Union/s) for consultation
15 September – Deadline job skills and competency templates to be received for Director and Assistant Director posts to be placed.
30 September – Formal consultation ends. Deadline for receiving jobs skills and competency templates back for Assistant Director posts
1 October – Subject to results of consultation, commence implementing proposals including placing staff formally at risk
31 December – Redundancies effective
4 January 2010 – New structure in place and operational

We are now at the end of January and the new structure is not in place nor is it operational. According to our sources it will be another 3 or 4 weeks at least before the issues causing the delay are resolved.

We are reliably informed that the delay is being caused by changes that were made to senior managers contracts during the time of the interim Chief Executive. These changes include clauses which allow for payments of around £20,000 per person for taking on extra responsibilities within the council. We are led to believe that these changes were not put in front of the elected members and have only come to light as part of the restructuring process.

You can view the discussion about this matter in the last full council meeting here.

I think there are some things we need to be absolutely clear about, last year I as a leader made a statement that I would not accept pay rises to senior managers on tier 1 and tier 2, which is the discussion that’s in this report given the economic circumstances that this council faces.

HR Committee have discussed this, jobs have been re-evaluated because previously there was no job evaluation, it was basically erm unevaluated jobs randomly applied and a wholly unfair system.

For the first time we have been able to evaluate all the jobs and despite that the HR committee did not accept any pay rises for any of those senior officers”¦..

There has been a lot said about looking at the past and all the negatives within the council and how it should stop and how the city should look forward to the future. Unfortunately until each and very closet is opened up and every skeleton is out in public view it is impossible for the city to look forward, each time we look forward and feel that we are moving on something else from the murky past of Stoke-on-Trent City Council appears and sweeps the legs from under us.

Proposed £45m Budget Cuts And Savings

The much talked about Medium Term Financial Strategy has now been published on the council website for viewing, see the link at the foot of this post.

I have had a skim through the proposals and some of the things that jumped out at me are:

Restriction of catering for internal meetings Option to explore the possibility of introducing a new policy outlining the circumstances when catering for an internal meeting is appropriate. This would reduce the amount of internal catering provided by Facilities Management. a proposed saving of £20k per year

Credit card charges for paying Council Tax Not currently charged for. We are charged by the bank for accepting credit card transactions. Income is based on £7.3m payments of Council Tax currently received by credit card and a 1% charge. Council has powers to levy as it sees fit. saving of £30k per year.

Move to monthly Our City publication. Costs will increase due to monthly publication rather than bi-monthly. However if Our City could be registered as a newspaper, all public authority statutory advertising could be carried out through this forum. The revenue from advertising could be used to offset the additional production costs. All homes in the City receive the publication. Current advertisements in the Sentinel are only circulated to 1/6th of the
City’s population
£147k per year

Stoke speaks out – rationalisation Reduction of allocation made available from Area Based Grant and review and absorption of activities within other core activities. Highly regarded service which has had significant impact on the attainment levels and readiness of young children starting school. Cuts to this award winning service could save £100k per year

Waste Services – move from 5 day collection week to 4 day collection week Reducing days worked by an already depleted workforce could save £60k per year.

Parking Enforcement:
Change of Policy – Remove 10 Minute Grace Periods for Vehicles with EXPIRED Parking Ticket
Parking enforcement – change of policy – remove 5 minute grace period for vehicles parked with no parking ticket
Review of Parking Regulations Parking Enforcement, Reintroduction of Evening Parking Enforcement on Car Parks and On-Street.
Income generation of £263k in first year.

Enforcement, Moving Vehicle Enforcement (bus lanes)Large invest to save project ““ new ground. Check delivery options e.g. cameras on buses themselves ““ links to LAA target ““ reducing congestion. £60k in first year estimated £380k over 3 years.

The list literally does go on. There are some other savings like removing the Assistant Chief Executives post saving £150k in the first year, John van der Laarschot needs to be consulted and make this decision.

Not recruiting for some current vacancies is a theme throughout the proposal as is removing some posts.

Have a read through the proposals and feel free to comment below with anything of interest.