Sticking to my guns on budget

LAST week I explained how difficult it has been putting together the budget for next year at the council.

For months I’ve complained about the severity of the cuts and the difficult circumstances that we have to work within.

For three-quarters-of-a-year the cabinet has been working tirelessly to put together a set of proposals that, despite the extremely challenging circumstances, will leave the council in the very best position to continue providing quality services and to protect as many jobs as possible in the difficult years to come.

Unfortunately, the majority of the council has not agreed to the proposals and the Labour group moved a series of amendments that, in my view, are nothing more than a ridiculous attempt at trying to win a few extra votes at the upcoming elections.

That said, having looked in great detail at these amendments, I’m not exactly sure what part of them will appeal to the voting populous.

I have my grave suspicions as to the real reasons behind this stance but the reasons given seems to boil down to a reluctance to outsource ICT/Revenues & Benefits.

As I said last week, the cabinet has already chosen a preferred bidder to run the contract following a procurement process that lasted over a year. The only reason it is even part of the budget process is that we need to fund some up front costs for the new contract to help upgrade our computer software amongst other things.

The seven-year contract will realise savings close to an eight-figure sum over its length and guarantee job protection for every person who currently works in those departments.

Not only that, the successful bidder will have to create a number of jobs, a three-figure sum, or there will be severe financial penalties.

I’m not a fan of outsourcing as a rule, but in this case it is absolutely the right thing to do.

Next year the Government will introduce a single universal credit and that will almost certainly mean they will privatise the benefits service nationally which will leave all of our staff at risk.

Not only that, we will have to plug the gap of savings that outsourcing would have created locally in other ways which will mean even more local staff and services will be at risk.

The Labour groups want to look at bringing ICT services back in houses service that has already been outsourced for thirteen years.

There is a suggestion that it might save more money. Maybe I’ve missed something in the reams of paperwork I’ve been through on this but there is no way on this planet that the council can provide its own technology cheaper than the company that runs it now or other private providers out there, it is a ludicrous suggestion.

They have also resolved not to outsource revenues and benefits services on a point of political principle, so they say.

It is making decisions based on political ideology by this Government that has got us into this mess in the first place.

It is certainly not the right time to try and make a point locally based on party political ideals. The council already outsources nearly 60 per cent of its services in some shape or form and I haven’t heard much resistance from the Labour camp about any of those and I’m absolutely amazed that the Conservative group are not supporting privatisation at the current time as that is a complete polarisation of what their ideals should be.

It is actually the medium-term financial strategy that the councillors have been voting on and I’m afraid the amendments have absolutely no medium term about them, the strategy is non-existent and the finances of it will leave the council in the brown stuff in years to come.

I have this week to object to the amendments and I would hence need one third on the council to support the original proposals.

The problem is that, with an all-out election looming and an agenda from most of them to get rid of the mayoral system, that it is unlikely I would get enough support to make an objection worthwhile.

I have already visited nearly every political group and most independent councillors to see the whites of their eyes and ask if they had any issues with the budget proposals well before the final version became a public document.

Surprisingly, no-one raised an issue or a gripe that would suggest they would not support the cabinet proposals.

I will continue to try and persuade those councillors who seem hell bent on plunging us into deeper trouble that they are making a huge mistake by not agreeing the original budget, for what it’s worth.

But I’m afraid my experiences so far tell me much more about the kind of people I’m trying to work with rather than their politics.