by our RBG Correspondent | Woolwich
Councillors in Royal Greenwich have launched a strategic plan to protect key front line services in the face of budget cuts announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.
The cuts mean that the Royal Borough is expected to have around a £77m shortfall in respect of its budgets over the next three years.
As the Chancellor prepared to issue his statement last week, Royal Greenwich joined with 17 councils across London to warn of the potential impact that cuts could have on adult care services. Cuts to those budgets “put at severe risk our ability to fund elderly residents who are supported in the community instead of occupying a hospital bed, which typically costs the public purse three times the amount,” they wrote.
Greenwich also joined with other councils to voice concern over cuts in funding for public health programmes, such as weight-reduction and anti-smoking initiatives. These are services that help people – including those on lower incomes - to maintain good health and thereby reduce pressures on the NHS.
In a bid to protect front line services the Council’s Cabinet agreed at its meeting last week (18 November) to a financial strategy covering the next three years. The strategy builds on the careful financial management followed in recent years, and aims to ensure resources are targeted at the most needy, while building in additional savings to allow investment in new services and facilities for the future.
The strategy outlines four areas of action to help achieve the necessary savings while maintaining key services:
Workforce savings - a plan aimed at reducing staff costs by around £20m per year. This will include savings in management costs through changing the Council’s departmental structures, offering voluntary redundancy to staff who are approaching retirement, and reducing the use of agency staff.
Transforming adult social care. The Council is to begin a thorough review of social care provision with an emphasis on promoting well-being; offering greater choice for residents; giving people control over their lives; and helping vulnerable people to feel safe. The review recognises that the cost of providing services to vulnerable adults has risen at a far greater rate than the rise in the numbers of people requiring support. Changes to services will be discussed closely with people who use those services.
Growth and investment strategy – a plan to invest in services and developments that create greater long-term prosperity for residents and for the borough as a whole. Schemes that attract businesses to the borough deliver twin benefits of creating job opportunities for local people – making them less dependent on welfare and other services – while also bringing in greater levels of business rates, which can be invested further.
Reducing overspends and improving general housekeeping – council departments have been asked to look at reducing the costs of providing services. Changes such as enabling more transactions to be done online don’t just make things more convenient for residents – they are also cheaper for the Council to provide.
Councillor Denise Hyland (top right), Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “We have a good track record for careful financial planning and over recent years this has proved the best way to protect services and to protect the people who rely on those services – particularly the most vulnerable in our community."
“The cuts imposed by central Government create an extremely challenging pressure for local councils, and there is no disguising the fact that some services will need to change, or be reduced.
“However, we have a clear commitment to protecting front line services and in setting our budgets this will remain our top priority. Local people have demonstrated their trust in our ability to steer the borough economically, continuing to provide efficient services and continuing to modernise.
“We have also worked hard to avoid compulsory redundancies, and it remains our firm desire to achieve staff savings through voluntary means.
“We’ve found that the best way of ensuring that our staff and residents know exactly where they stand, is to take most of the tough decisions early – and that’s exactly what we plan to do now, with most savings in place for the start of the new financial year in April 2016.This approach is also the best way of ensuring stability in the services that we provide.”
The value of this planned approach to reducing budgets can be seen in the fact that – unlike many other councils – Greenwich has been able to maintain and improve many popular and vital services including libraries, youth services, leisure centres and children’s centres.
It has also enabled the Council to invest in new service areas, particularly those that help improve the local economy and which provide opportunities for local people to move off benefits and into work and training.