Councillor Colin Davidovitz
Given the need to tighten our belts, due to the huge debt mountain left to the Country by the last Government, Hampshire County Council rose to the challenge early and set up work streams across Council departments to reduce expenditure whilst protecting essential services, even before the new Conservative Chancellor of the Government announced his spending review.
In protecting service delivery the task set was to review âback officeâ (i.e administrative) practices and procedures and options for reshaping and restructuring the way the Council was managed.
First, two large divisions were merged, two Directors of Service retired and 130 Senior Managers were offered voluntary redundancy prior to the first year of Government Funding cuts. This provided immediate saving to be embedded in budgets and allowed the Council to set aside a Â£20 million contingency fund to insure against departments not achieving the budget reduction targets being prepared for the first year of the Governments budget reduction programme.
In year one, the County has had to reduce budgets across the board by Â£55 million whilst demand for Council services is rising. This at a time when more children are being taken into care; more older people with complex needs are living longer and in need of the Councilâs care services. Severe winter weather has damaged roads creating a higher demand for highways maintenance services and increased costs for commodities and fuel prices is triggering demands for higher charges for supplies and services from contractors and increases in subsidies from public transport companies.
Rather than wring their hands, Councillors staff and managers rallied together. A pay freeze for staff and allowance freeze for Councillors has been implemented, A moratorium on staff recruitment is imposed for all but key workers and plans made to reduce the number of office buildings occupied from 53 down to 8 countywide hubs.1,400 staff posts were lost largely through voluntary redundancy or retirement.
Staff closed ranks to fill absences, changed working practices to cover vacancies and training programmes were initiated to provide promotion opportunities by filling management posts to support and manage the restructuring of service provision.
So how has this impacted on Council staff and Hampshire residents? Out of the 1,400 staff reductions, only 20 staff redundancies have been compulsory.
No libraries or museums have had to be closed although some are having their opening hours reduced and voluntary organisations are being supported and trained to support them. All Country parks and outdoor Centres continue to operate. All 81 childrenâs centres are serving parents and children, bus routes continue to be subsidised and local community transport is being funded to support access to facilities and services on routes that would otherwise not be commercially viable.
Care services have been expanded and improved to cope with the increase in the number of children and adults needing support.
Over 500 Extra Care accommodation units are being rolled out across the county to enable older people to live independently with 24/7care on site. The 10 new âstate of the artâ Council Nursing homes with accommodation for 500, built by the by the Council continue to care for people with dementia, Alzheimer and other disabilities, alongside a large network of Council supported private residential homes. More vulnerable people are receiving enablement, so they can retain their independence and be cared for in their own homes with personal budgets to cater for their care and everyday needs.
A huge resilience programme of work is strengthening the Countyâs 5,000 roads, less waste (under 10%) is going to landfill than any other County, broad band technology is being rolled out into rural areas and every lamp standard in the County is being replaced with carbon friendly remotely dimmable white lighting lanterns and all schools and Council buildings fitted with smart meters to monitor and reduce energy consumption..
Connexions and advice services have been imbedded into schools. Youth services continue to be supported. Hampshire 540 Schools are still amongst the best performers in the Country.
As an active member of the South East 7 local authorities, the County is sharing its expertise and services with others. Co-operating with the South East 7 on waste disposal initiatives, Highways maintenance, IT services and leading on Property Service management, Procurement and Asset management, resulting in greater cost reductions for all by sharing service costs and earning fees.
Now also the Police and Fire services are in active discussion with the County to share administrative services such as HR Recruitment, communications and IT with the aim of reducing costs for each partner.
How is this seen by monitors? Care Quality and Ofsted inspectors have rated Children and Adult services as being above average and in some cases rated as Outstanding. The Audit Commission has rated Council Services as Excellent and confirms that it is giving good value for money.
Council Tax is the lowest in the South East and is being frozen again next year for the third year running, even though the County Council receives less financial support from Government than most other Councils in the Country (Â£142 per head of population against Counties like Nottinghamshire Â£253 per head, and Cumbria Â£317 per head).
It is still able to set side contingency funds earmarked for future expenditure and to pump Â£150 million into the local economy to provide the infrastructure for roads schools, waste disposal facilities etc., etc., to support a huge house building and economic regeneration programme across the County that will provide the jobs and homes and business so necessary to grow the local economy.
What of the future? Reductions in Government funding mean that further savings of Â£45 million for next year and this yearâs budget will show how departmental budgets will be reduced by a further 8% and how front line services will be further protected and improved as the demand for them. Increases and as the efficiencies now embedded in budgets continue to deliver savings and as a corporate service review delivers a reorganisation of top management and eliminates the duplication in the delivery of administrative services.
This is how forward looking County Councillors on the County Council have rolled up their sleeves and together with Council officers and staff have responded positively and creatively to ensure the protection of the services so essential to the prosperity and wellbeing of the people of Hampshire in response to the Challenges set by the huge reduction in funding from Central Government.
By year four of the Governments funding reduction programme, the County Council will not only be leaner, it will be stronger and give greater value for money for the people of Hampshire than ever before.
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2013 Election Result for Chandler's Ford
Date First Elected: 07/06/2001
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