Monday, March 01, 2010

Sutton Conservatives to propose 1.75% cut in Council Tax

Tonight sees the last Council budget before the local elections on May 6th. The LibDems have taken our advice a year late and frozen Council Tax. In those last 12 months, whilst waiting for them to catch up, the Conservative Councillors having been continuing their research with the result being our alternative proposal that the Council should cut tax by 1.75%. This is based on the most conservative figures provided.

Despite reducing the money that we would take from taxpayers, we have found money to introduce a number of policies including an incentive-based recycling scheme, the reintroduction of 200 visitor hours for those living in Sutton's Controlled Parking Zones and a 50% Council Tax discount for residents in the Armed Forces whilst serving overseas on active duty. We have even doubled the amount put aside in case of overspend at the controversial £8.5m Sutton Life Centre since it is clear that this will be a burden to local taxpayers for sometime to come.

Getting accurate figures about how many consultants that we employ and how many vacant posts, which are budgeted for but not filled, has been incredibly difficult with different parts of the council saying different things. Our savings mainly come from 3 areas.
  • We will reduce the number of consultants. All too often, someone leaves the employ of the Council to step back into the Civic the next day on an inflated fee based on a day-rate.
  • We will change the approach of the Council to move away from day-rates toward specific results and time frames so that jobs cannot be spun out.
  • We will remove unnecessary vacant posts from departmental budgets and freeze additional staff recruitment for two years whilst shielding primary council services from any cuts following a comprehensive staff review.
  • We will reduce communication costs. We have a contract to provide communication services. We should not be paying others to duplicate effort.
  • We will make Sutton Scene self-financing.
  • We will reduce the overall amount of allowances that councillors take and freeze allowances across the board for one year.
So, to summarise, we will reduce our dependency on highly-paid consultants, get rid of non-jobs, spend less on telling residents how well we are doing and reducing the cost of politicians whilst still improving services.






7 comments:

tim said...

We will transform this council with innovative ways of looking at finance and budgets.
Anything that is regarded as the status quo will be challenged and no stone will be left unturned in searching for brave new ways to enhance services and protect the council taxpayer.
Areas that have been regarded as deep silos in the council will be emptied .
This is our promise which we will keep.

Adrian Short said...

If you make Sutton Scene self-financing it'll end up looking like the Sutton Guardian, and the Guardian itself will find it even harder to make a profit and drop standards accordingly.

Neither of those things would be good.

Scully said...

Adrian

That might be the case if we changed it to a more regular newspaper as has happened elsewhere. However I'm not convinced that a bi-monthly magazine with a different editorial coverage will necessarily impinge on the Guardian. The Council gave their statutory applications to the Guardian's competitors and rely more on their own website for job adverts. This will have had a major effect on the Guardian.

Adrian Short said...

Well obviously there's not much editorial overlap. One is essentially a PR vehicle for the council consisting of little more than recycled press releases. The other is the borough's official magazine. ;)

Boris Johnson famously cancelled The Londoner (and the Morning Star) and Wandsworth Council's Brightside magazine is web-only.

How much does Sutton Scene cost and would it really be realistic to raise all that from advertising? The money's got to come from somewhere and I presume rates are in the bin right now.

Tisiphone said...

I think Sutton Scene should be in the bin too!
1.75% is a good start, but I hope the new Tory council will be more ambitious with its savings in the longer term.

David B, Carshalton Beeches said...

Sorry to be a pain, but please don't confuse the practical function of a council magazine with the current content of Sutton Scene.

Although the cost may seem high, its absence would mean that a whole raft of individual communication projects would be required, whose combined cost would almost certainly be well above the current cost of the magazine.

Councils have a legal obligation to communicate certain statutory information to residents, and the magazine (in fact, the whole concept of council magazines) was seen ten years ago as a highly economic way of fulfilling this function.

The real problem is the way council magazines have developed into mouthpieces of the current administration, rather than being for the information and benefit of residents. You just have to count the number of pictures of certain councillors within its pages to know this (though the PR stories and mugshots will disappear in the 'purdah' period).

Further, while the often denigrated council PR team works its butt off to get the mag out with scant resources, it's the ruling council members who ultimately pull the strings and direct the content.

A Conservative administration would still be obliged to communicate with the residents of Sutton for many statutory reasons. How it does that economically, if elected, while being seen to be impartial and fair, is the real challenge, but one that I believe can be overcome with a little imagination and by reassessing the whole council communications ethos and method. Whether a council magazine should be part of this is a moot point at present.

The council claimed a couple of years ago in a policy document (I think) that Sutton Scene would be raising about £75k a year in revenue by now from advertising. It has not materialised. Internally, there is neither the passion nor the expertise to make it happen.

Self-financing is only an option if the magazine's quality and content are sufficiently attractive to potential advertisers. At present, it most certainly is not the case. As alluded to above, there is also the issue of a backlash from the local Guardian group, which is suffering in the recession. This could manifest itself in many forms, needless to say, not simply on a commercial competition front.

So my message is be careful what you wish for - it may cost you more in the end! Throwing the baby out with the bathwater might come back and bite you on the bottom, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphors.

Creative thinking and perhaps partnership working with other services or publishers may be a solution, but it needs some proper, professional work and research and a willing to serve residents first - not simply vanity publishing on behalf of an ever more desperate council.

Hopefully we won't get another 'Westminster' scenario where a consultant is called in who recommends themselves to do the job. Perhaps some form of government legislation is needed to curb the content and remit of council magazines.

So, please think about the alternatives before jumping on the bandwagon. I dare say a Conservative voter would find a Conservative-biased magazine perfectly fair - it all depends on your point of view.

Rant over...

David B, CB said...

Talking of the Council rag... guess what dropped through my door this morning?

My last copy of Sutton Scene was delivered late, at the end of the first week in February (with a Feb/Mar cover date).

So just one month later I have another copy of a bi-monthly publication, with a cover date of April/May.

I also notice this issue is full of wonderful stuff about the Lib Dems, such as the Sutton Life Centre and the fantastically coincidental freeze in Council Tax.

So why is it out three weeks early?

Am I the only one who thinks it may be so the Lib Dems can have a last crack at conning the electorate with a pile of taxpayer-funded PR before the local elections 'purdah' period kicks in?

Cynical? Me?

It's this kind of political abuse of council publications that should be looked at by the Audit Commission.