17:20 Thursday 1st August 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: East Cambridgeshire is to spend £30,000 to ask a former council official how to save money. As we reported on Drivetime earlier in the week, the district council needs to find £900,000 of savings in about eighteen months time. So former Deputy Chief Executive Cecilia Tredget is being hired to find those savings. James Palmer is the Council Leader, and he joins me now. Hi James.
JAMES PALMER: Good afternoon.
CHRIS MANN: Do you really need to pay somebody £30,000 to tell you how to save money?
JAMES PALMER: I think the best way to look at a situation that we find that we’re in where we need to save considerable money, over £1 million, is to get outside help, to look at root and branch look at the Council as we’ve said before, and we think Improvement East and Cecilia Tredget will do the job very well.
CHRIS MANN: But she used to be, am I right, the number two to the current Chief Executive of your council, John Hill. Is that right?
JAMES PALMER: I believe so. That’s six years ago. That was before I was on the Council. But I know that she was very well thought of at the District Council. She’s gone on to a different job, and apparently is very very good. I would have thought that her knowledge of the Council would stand her in good stead to do this as well.
CHRIS MANN: I’m sure it will. I absolutely agree with you. She was the authority’s Deputy Chief Executive for ten years to 2008. But the Chief Executive is John Hill. He’s been there since 2000. Shouldn’t he know how to make savings in his council? And shouldn’t he know better than the woman who was his Deputy?
JAMES PALMER: It’s not John Hill’s decision. It’s the decision of the Members and myself as a Leader to get an outside team in to do this. We think if it costs us £30,000 to save £1.5 million that’s very good value. I can’t think of any business in the country that wouldn’t want to do something similar if they could.
CHRIS MANN: Really?
JAMES PALMER: Excuse me, we’re in a position where Government cuts to our finances have put is into a situation where we need to look at the current financial position, and we think this is the best way to do so.
CHRIS MANN: So you really think that John Hill and his officers who are there at the moment couldn’t come up with the ideas that Cecilia Tredget and her people who don’t know your council recently are going to go away and think about?
JAMES PALMER: You see I think you’re not quite understanding the job of Chief Executive. The job of Chief Executive is to manage the Council. What we have asked someone to do is look at it fresh eyes, from the outside, without any (COUGHS) history, or with certain history of course of being able to do the job that she was doing, but without any ties to the Council, being able to look at the whole system with fresh eyes, to see what can be improved, and what can be slimmed down. And that’s what Cecilia and her team are going to do.
CHRIS MANN: Did you first of all ask the officers and Mr Hill to come up with ideas? Or have you gone straight to spend this £30,000?
JAMES PALMER: You seem to be hung up on £30,000. I’m not particularly hung up on £30,000. I’m hung up on saving taxpayers’ money and getting the best value service. And I think you’re probably looking at it from the wrong way . My position is very clear. We need to make substantial savings to the Council budget. We need to do it properly. We need to do it sensibly. We need to be very cautious, and we need to be very clear about what we’re doing. I think in this case that the best way to do that is to get outside or professional help. And that’s what we’re doing.
CHRIS MANN: I’m asking you the questions because you’ve spent £30,000 ..
JAMES PALMER: No no no. We haven’t spent £30,000.
CHRIS MANN: Could I finish.
JAMES PALMER: We will be spending ..
CHRIS MANN: Ok you will be. Could I finish? Because some people might think that spending £30,000 on an outside agency which includes someone who used to work for your council is quite a lot of money. But that’s for you to answer, which you’ve done.
JAMES PALMER: Well I have done. And I’ve said to you that if the savings that we’ve asked Cecilia to find are substantial, and I think that it’s very sensible use of taxpayers’ money to save this kind of massive amount of finance that we’re asking her to save.
CHRIS MANN: James Palmer, thank you for joining us. The Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council.