PAUL STAINTON: Our local councils are going to have to tighten their belts still further. The Chancellor has said local government will have its funding cut by a further ten per cent on top of the savings they’ve already had to make. So how will they cope? Well on the line now is Alex Colyer, Executive Director for Corporate Services at South Cambs District Council. Morning.
ALEX COLYER: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Well, find another ten per cent is basically what he’s saying, isn’t it?
ALEX COLYER: That’s absolutely right. Yes. We’ve already had to find thirty per cent savings on our Government grant over the last few years. That equates to about £4 million on a £15 million budget then. So it’s a serious impact, and we think the impact will be we need to find another £1 million going forward.
PAUL STAINTON: I mentioned Peterborough earlier, and they’ve got a potential black hole in their budget for the next five years of about £50 million, and add that on it’s about £65 million, £68 million. Can councils cope with all of these cuts?
ALEX COLYER: Well as Finance Director I’m never going to say there aren’t more efficiency savings to be had. We’ll always strive to be more efficient. But clearly it gets harder every year we’re asked to do it again. We’ve got an ambitious programme of savings that we need to find. Yesterday’s announcement doesn’t really change anything within that we were expecting this to happen to us in the round. It’s going to be hard though, and I’m not going to shy away from that, and there will be some difficult decisions to be made over the mext year.
PAUL STAINTON: Where does it stop though? When do you say hold on a minute? Efficiency savings, cuts to front line services, we can’t cut any more. You just said yourself, thirty per cent’s worth of cuts to your funding, where’s the line?
ALEX COLLIER: Well, at a certain point, we won’t have any support from Government. And part of our strategy is to plan for that day. And a fifty per cent cut on nothing is still nothing, isn’t it? So our plans are to look at either getting ourselves into a position where we aren’t reliant on Government grants in the next ten years. Now that may not be a decision for the likes of Peterborough and the upper tier authorities, but for the District Council, that’s a position we will want to put ourselves in.
PAUL STAINTON: So what have you cut already then?
ALEX COLYER: Well we’ve done things like bringing our contact centre back in-house, for example. We’ve looked at changing the way we deliver our IT services to our customers. Those sorts of initiatives make ourselves more efficient rather than cutting services. We’ve had to make some difficult decisions around grants over the last few years, to our partners out in the community. That’s a difficult set of decisions. We’ve lost around thirty to forty staff over the last four years, so it’s a cumulative impact I guess, but there will be a mixture of doing things more efficiently, and we’ll always start there, but coupling that with some difficult decisions, and stopping doing things that we don’t need to do, or don’t statutorily have to do.
PAUL STAINTON: This extra ten per cent, this is going to affect front line services, isn’t it, surely?
ALEX COLYER: Well it will, but the job for us is to make sure that those impacts are felt least by our residents. And I’m not going to shy away from that. That’s the impact we will look to make sure our residents are least affected.
PAUL STAINTON: Where do you think you’re going to have to make cuts then, in South Cambs, this ten per cent?
ALEX COLYER: Well our programme is looking to make sure that we make the best use of our staffing resources ..
PAUL STAINTON: So cuts in staff.
ALEX COLYER: Well we will always look to make sure we make the best use of our staff, absolutely right. We will look to make sure we get best value for money from our suppliers. We will look to make sure we structure our refuse service in the right way. And right across the board, make sure we get best use of our resources. We will look at all of our discretionary services that we provide, look to see whether other partners can deliver those in partnership with us, or whether they need to be provided in the first place. And that’s the sort of range of issues we’re looking at.
PAUL STAINTON: Tricky times. Tricky jobs for people like you Alex.
ALEX COLYER: Absolutely. And to be honest with you I wouldn’t want to be a councillor in this sort of framework either. It’s incredibly difficult for them too. Difficult choices.
PAUL STAINTON: Alex, thank you for coming on this morning.