Mark Lloyd on Cuts – The Andy Harper Interview

mark Lodge09:23 Friday 21st January 2011
The Andy Harper Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY HARPER: Well yesterday we heard details of the cuts being made by Cambridgeshire County Council, along with the loss of 450 jobs. Things like subsidised buses, libraries and disability services will be affected. The man charged with seeing this through, while still keeping the County going, is the Chief Executive Mark Lloyd. And I’m delighted to say that Mark has joined me in the studio. Mark, good morning to you.
MARK LLOYD: Good morning to you, Andy.
ANDY HARPER: So before we go any further, let’s just set the ground rules as to how this works. It is elected councillors who decide on the policy, and then council employees who have to see it through? Would that be a fair summary?
MARK LLOYD:Yes Andy. That is right. But I think that I should also say that my role is two-fold. The first part of my role is as the chief policy advisor to the councillors. So I do offer them advice on the choices that are open to them. But the councillors make the decisions. And then the second part of my role, once they’ve made the decisions and set their budgets, is if you want a chief engineer, I need to make it all happen, and to make it all happen within the budgets that they’ve allocated. So I become accountable for delivery.
ANDY HARPER: So when you advise them, does that mean they come to you and they say, we have to make millions of pounds worth of cuts here, you are culpable if you like, because you do say well look, let’s cut here and let’s cut here?
MARK LLOYD: I offer them a whole range of options Andy, that they then need to consider. And they need to consider the options that I and my colleagues put up against their political priorities. And as we’ve gone into this budget round, it’s been really quite helpful for me that the Party controlling the County Council are absolutely clear about what matters most to them. So that means I can offer them a whole set of options, based on those priorities, but as you say ultimately they make the choices.
ANDY HARPER: Did you have an amount of money which you had to save? So, two million, four million, whatever it was, let’s just pluck figures, did you then have to say, right, this is what we’ve got to save, and then gradually tick off things that got you nearer and nearer to the amount?
MARK LLOYD We started with what matters most to our councillors. So it was about their priorities. It’s a priority-led approach to allocating resources, like we all do in our own homes. What do we most want to spend our money on? What do we least want to spend it on? So it wasn’t just a case of, let’s go incrementally. It was about what’s the most important things for Cambridgeshire. And Andy as you mentioned money, and you pluck a number out of the air, let’s make it real for your listeners. In the year that’s coming we need to save £50.4 million. That’s an awful lot of money. And then over the next five years, we need to save £160 million. So we’ve had to do a root and branch review of every single thing that we do as a council.
ANDY HARPER: And why do you have to save £50 million? Why that figure?
MARK LLOYD: I would be a liar if I said to you this morning that it’s all because of Government grant cuts. Government grant cuts do matter, and the largest single contributor to the amount of money that we need to save does relate to reductions in funding coming to our council from Government. But that’s not the only factor. The second biggest amount of savings is as a consequence of changes in our population in Cambridgeshire. I’m really pleased it’s a growing county. I’m really pleased it’s a vibrant county. But the fact that we have more people coming to live here increases the pressures on councils. The fact, and I’m pleased about this too, that we’re all living longer Andy, also adds to pressures on councils, because of the social care consequences. So the second biggest contributor to that £50 million of savings is meeting the changes in our population. Followed by meeting inflationary demands. Prices are going up, for us all, including councils. And then things like the cost of our borrowing, and some smaller numbers. So that £50.4 million that I mentioned to you, £18.4 of it is because of reductions in Government grants, £18.1 million of it, very nearly the same number, is because of changes in our population.
ANDY HARPER: If people move into the County, and I know that maybe developments haven’t taken place at the pace that was anticipated, and hoped for in many cases, but if people move in, well then they are paying, aren’t they? So if ten new houses are built, and ten families move in, well you do get their council tax. So it’s not as if people are moving in to the County, and are just a drain on resources.
MARK LLOYD: That’s right. We all make our contribution. I live in Cambridgehsire like you, and I pay my council taxes, as do new people that come in to Cambridgeshire. But as a new community is being developed, the one thing I’m sure everybody appreciates is that they have some immediate needs for infrastructure. They need roads. They need schools. They need community centres. They need libraries, if that’s not a sore subject at the moment. So we have to make those up front commitments. Which is why one of the numbers which has increased in that £50.4 million is our costs of borrowing, to support capital investments. So you’re right Andy. People do all contribute. We all contribute to out taxes, council tax and national taxation. But there are upfront costs to do with people arriving in the County. But the biggest single factor isn’t people arriving in Cambridgeshire. It’s our aging population, and meeting the social care demands.
ANDY HARPER: I suppose the headlines are always made by those groups of people who are most vulnerable. But then on the other side of things I suppose they are the people who rely on the Council anyway. So it’s really bad news to find out that people, elderly people, maybe find themselves in a village with no public transport, that people with disabled children suddenly find themselves in a predicament. Even libraries, mobile libraries and village libraries, are going to suffer. It’s the people who use them, I suppose, who are the most affected, because that’s who the councils are for. Myself, I’ve got a job. I come to work. And thankfully at this stage I don’t need the Council’s support in the same way.
MARK LLOYD:And that’s why we’re trying to make sure that every single pound that we spend, on the kinds of people that you’ve described, that need more help from local and national government, we’re trying to make sure that each and every pound has the maximum possible impact. So you mentioned buses Andy. Let me use that as an example. Are we getting the best impact from each pound we spend, by subsidising a bus to run on a particular route, that sometimes runs with one or two passengers, and occasionally sadly with no passengers, as opposed to working with a community to come up with a new solution to their transport needs, that will fit in with where they want to go and when they want to go, rather than a scheduled bus on a particlar evening, or on a particular Sunday, that might not fit in with the way they lead their lives?
ANDY HARPER: So is that something you’ve addressed? And how might it work? Because we heard from people earlier in the weeek who live in places like Harston, and places like Fulbourne, who can’t get in to Cambridge, let alone people who live in the outlying villages. So have you thought of any alternatives to this?
MARK LLOYD:Well 80% of the bus services in Cambridgeshire are run commercially. And that’s great. But that means 20% don’t. And that amounts to something like 80 bus routes that we as a county council have to subsidise, so that bus companies are prepared to run them. And we think that communities, and we, will get better value for money if we work with them on alternative solutions. Might it be that there’s a community based transport solution? Might there be a car sharing scheme? Might there be a minibus based solution, rather than this fixed approach to running a big bus up and down a particular route at a particular time? And that’s the discussion that we want to have. And there’s a summit been called by our lead councillor responsible for this, Councillor Matt McGuire, that’s taking place in March, to start that dialogue, so that we come up with answers, before those subsidised bus routes disappear.
ANDY HARPER: You’re listening to The Andy Harper Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The time is nine thirty, and my guest in the studio is Mark Lloyd, the Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council. We can’t move on from transport without going back to the Guided Bus. Because the minute we start talking about cuts in transport, or any other services, we get inundated by people who are saying, look at the millions of pounds the Council have wasted on this white elephant, and that ultimately you may well have to spend an awful lot more. Is that something which is a millstone round your neck?
MARK LLOYD:When I arrived in Cambridgeshire, for the three years in March since I took on this role, I’m very privileged to be the Council’s Chief Executive, when I arrived there were some things I needed to do, some service improvements that we needed to drive. Andy, I’m pleased to say that has happened. There was a Central Library that was over-running, and now it’s open, and now a great success. There was the debate about congestion charging, which is pretty much now something that we’ve moved on from. But the Guided Busway was there then, and remains here now. And yes you’re right. It’s the one thing that perhaps most undermines the reputation of Cambridgeshire County Council. And believe me, I, my officer colleagues, and the councillors that we work for want to get the contract finished, the Busway open, and services running. And that should happen during the first half of this year.
ANDY HARPER: But will that be the end of it economically. Because there are many people who feel that it won’t be viable. Now we won’t know until it’s up and running if it is viable. But you and I know that commercial companies don’t carry on running services that aren’t paying. You’ve already mentioned that when it comes to buses. So if the Guided Bus runs, and it isn’t used by the number of people as was originally anticipated, given the development of Northstowe, will you have to subsidise the Guided Bus, and pay money to the operators to make sure they keep it going, to save loss of face?
MARK LLOYD: I absolutely do not forecast that that will be what happens. We’ll have the park and ride facility at St Ives. We’ll have a good bus service through St Ives and into Huntingdon and beyond. I think that will provide a commercially viable service. Clearly the Guided Busway will come into its own, once there’s the large development in the Northstowe area. And I still forecast that that will happen at a point in the relatively near future.
ANDY HARPER: So you don’t see any money going out of the Council coffers, once the buses are up and running, to prop them up?
ANDY HARPER: Good. Thank you for that. You just touched on park and ride there. I was going to mention this a bit later on, but I will mention it now. Because I had a text from a Council employee who does not want to be named for obvious reasons. “Just to let you know Andy that park and ride will not be able to help with your travel news in the morning after March, because the Council is removing manned cover, and leaving three to four thousand cars and customers to fend for themselves against theft, breakdowns and general predators, and anti-social behaviour. The site facilities will have to shut as well.” That is from somebody claiming to be a Cambridgeshire County Council employee. He’s actually given me his name, but I’m not going to pass it on to you for obvious reasons. So, Does he have a point?
MARK LLOYD:Andy, I wouldn’t want you to share the name with me. What I must say is that I’ve got, what, six thousand two hundred colleagues working with me in the County Council. Each and every one of them at the moment’s nervous about what the budget cuts that we’re having to make mean for their jobs. And the consequence of that is people are anticipating things that might happen, and sometimes wrongly. With regard to the park and ride service, we’re in a situation where we’ve committed ourselves in the coming twelve months to a fundamental review of how we manage the park and ride, whether the County Council continues to provide staffing resource in the facilities on the site that you’ve just described, and how we have our relationship with the bus operator. At the moment it’s Stagecoach, but part of the review will be to see whether Stagecoach or another operator would run it in future. So we’ve got a twelve month review period. So I think there’s a little bit of preemptive action in the message that’s come through to you. And I’ll make sure that the right messages go back into the staff in park and ride and elsewhere.
ANDY HARPER: You touched on jobs. So let’s talk about jobs now. 450 jobs lost now. Whilst all of us will lament the cutback of services for needy people, we should also lament the fact that 450 people, good employees, are going to lose their jobs. That for you must be the hardest part of this whole operation.
MARK LLOYD:Andy, it is. And I recognise that public servants in all aspects of public services are really worried about their jobs at the moment. I actually don’t know one public servant who’s sure that they’ve got a job in the future. So that means it’s difficult times for them, and also difficult times for their managers and their leaders in those organisations to keep morale up, and to ensure that we keep the focus where it should be, which is on first class service delivery to residents in this county. And as you say, we’ve signalled to our staff that there will be about 450 people that will lose their jobs in the coming year, and an unknown number in the years after at the moment, so frankly this isn’t the end of it. So the big thing for me is about making sure that we communicate quickly and clearly where those cuts are likely to be, and that we manage as a compassionately as we possibly can that transition . And with the people that find themselves leaving our organisation, to try and support them to try and find other jobs, either with us, or if that’s not possible, in employers elsewhere.
ANDY HARPER: What sort of proportion of your workforce is 450 people? How many people do you employ? Because I suppose that’s something of which people would be worth knowing as well really.
MARK LLOYD: Yes. The number at the moment is 6200.
MARK LLOYD: It’s a touch over. And in this last year it’s dropped by 150 as we’ve squeezed on our establishment. And it will continue to drop in the coming year.
ANDY HARPER: And how do you decide, you and others decide, where jobs will go? Do you look at each department and say, well look, there are 12 people working there. maybe we can get away with 11. There are 50 people in that department. We can perhaps get away with 45. How do you and others decide who are the unfortunate people to lose their jobs? I just put myself in their position. If we suddenly said that two people at BBC Radio Cambridgeshire were to lose their jobs, well we would want to know how it was decided, and who it was going to be.
MARK LLOYD: Yes. And it’s not as crude Andy with respect it’s not as crude as you describe. We start from the point as I said earlier in our discussion from what matters most to our councillors. What are the things that they need to deliver? The next question then is how should we best deliver the things that they think matter most. And that sometimes will be by us. But more often than not it will be by other organisations. And the number of staff that we then have is built up from what we’re doing, or what we will do in the future, rather than what we do right now. So it’s about the staff that we need to deliver on the councillors’ priorities, rather than just shaving one or two people off from each team in the organisation.
ANDY HARPER: You will obviously be parting with good people who in the past have been essential to the operation of the Council. So will you be stretched when people have lost their jobs, or will the services that you decide to maintain be manned well?
MARK LLOYD:I work with inspirational dedicated professionals in the County Council. And each and every one of them in an ideal world I’d like to hang on to. That’s not going to be the case. And they all work really really hard right now, Andy. So one of my duties as the most senior employee of the organisation is to make sure that we don’t just try and load 450 employees-worth of work on those people that remain. So there will be things that we simply need to stop doing, so that people who are working long and hard right now, don’t have to work even harder than they’re doing at the moment. That’s part of my duty to them. And I’ll do my best in that regard in the coming months.
ANDY HARPER: John has contacted me with an email. Thank you John, who is making the point that I’m sure you have heard made many times. And indeed I heard it made on Look East earlier this week when Stewart White interviewed the Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council. And John says, “Why don’t people like yourself at the top take a pay cut ? Nobody needs to earn …” and he uses a figure which I have absolutely no idea whether it’s right or not, he says “Nobody needs to earn £2000 a week. And why can’t councillors lose their unnecessary expenses? Every time we talk about council cutbacks, the feeling is that councillors are on a gravy train, and that people at the top of the organisation are well paid.”
MARK LLOYD:Dealing with the councillor question first. Councillors, I hope the public recognise this, do work long and hard. I head Councillor Martin Curtis on your radio station this morning at ten past seven, having made the journey down from Whittlesea. And he will no doubt be working late into this evening in his community as well. And that’s typical of all of the 69 councillors I work with. The councillors’ allowance is actually fairly modest. And the Leader of the Council, the person that works more than full-time, Councillor Jill Tuck, to ensure that we’ve got the right political leadership, gets about £30,000 a year. And whilst that clearly is a significant number, I don’t think it reflects what that leadership role in all councils is potentially worth. With regard to senior officers, and perhaps myself particularly Andy, I’ve always ensured, ever since arriving here almost three years ago, that my salary is a matter of public record, as are my expenses. It’s all on the Council’s website for people to see. Since arriving here, I’ve not sought any kind of pay increment, nor will I in the coming year. So in essence I’ll have had a four-year pay freeze, since taking up the post in this council. And that’s the kind of leadership I and my fellow senior officers want to provide, so that we recognise that everybody’s suffering, and we won’t be trying to line our own back pockets through that process.
ANDY HARPER: Thank you for that. We mentioned libraries early on, and you probably anticipated questions about libraries. This came from Andrea, who lives in the Peterborough area, and she says, “Are opening hours being reduced for other libraries that are going to stay open, and if not, wouldn’t changing opening hours everywhere be a better option than closing some of the libraries that you have mentioned?” Libraries are much lovedd, aren’t they?
MARK LLOYD:They are, and I love them myself. I live not far away from Rock Road Library south of Cambridge City, and I think it’s a fantastic facility, as is Central Library, and the whole network across our county. And again. staffed by colleagues who really care about what they’re doing. We just conducted a public consultation to help us with targeting our budget resources, and the two things that came top in the minds of the public, that we should try and protect as far as we’re able to, through that consultation, was one, the maintenance of our road network, and two, trying to minimise the impact of any library closures in Cambridgeshire. And on Wednesday of this week we published the document setting out our plans for the future of the library service. And our plans are to do just that, to try and minimise the impact on the library service of our budget predicament. And the first thing we’ll do is to, subject to a decision next week by our councillors, their plan at the moment is to move our libraries into a freestanding trust, so that they can get tax and business rate advantages. Secondly to ensure that running the back-office of the libraries, buying books and all that stuff, the IT etcetera, will be shared with a whole set of other councils, so that we minimise costs in running the libraries. Thirdly, we will build clusters of libraries around the main towns. So, if you want, the community libraries will link back into one central library for staff resource and the like. We’ll expand the use of self-service. I use the self-service in Central Library. I think it’s fantastic, checking books in and out. So that professional librarians can dedicate their time to helping people in the way they’ve been trained to, rather than that basic administrative function that most of us can do for ourselves. And then thirdly, for 13 of our smallest community libraries, we want to work with the local community, to see whether we can integrate the library with other local facilities, children’s centre, for example, and whether we can bring more volunteers in to help us to staff them. And if we can do that, our ultimate ambition is to avoid library closures. So we’re not trying to fiddle with opening hours. We’re trying our best to keep them all open.
ANDY HARPER: My guest is the Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, Mark Lloyd. We’re very near the end of our conversation, but, at the outset of all this, before facts and figures were known, the Big Society was mentioned, that people, maybe the way forward is for people to volunteer. And I think libraries is a cleassic example. Where libraries have been threatened or closed, then people have got involved. Is that something which you really see as a viable alternative? And can the County Council take any responsibility for it? It’s all very well asking people to volunteer to do things, but they need to be committed to something, don’t they? Is it something which you have pursued as an alternative?
MARK LLOYD:I think we have to start by acknowledging just how much people do already. I think through all of my friends, and each and every one of them does something. I can think of one who’ll be spending this morning working in a charity in Cambridge. I can think of another who will have spent hsi Tuesday evening coaching a rugny team. I can think of all sorts of things that people already do, that’s now being called the Big Society, but many of us have been doing for a very long time. But I think we all recognise that the State needs to shrink. That’s the decision of the Government, not mine. It’s a decision of Government. And if the State’s doing less, it means that we all need to do more for ourselves. And that does mean that we’ll be, we as a local authority will be having to step out of some things. And we’ll be doing our best, where those areas we step out of matter to a community, to help individuals to step in. So I do hope, I really do hope, that we will see more participation by our residents in providing things that matter to them. But I also recognise Andy that that means there will be some things that don’t matter to them, that will simply stop in future.
ANDY HARPER: Just finally Mark, do you enjoy your job, and are you looking forward to the next twelve months?
MARK LLOYD: I’ve got the best job in Cambridgeshire. It’s a fantastic job. The things the Council does touches the lives of every single person every single day. The 69 councillors I work for, my senior colleagues, none of us came into public services to cut them. But what we’re going to do over the next twelve months, indeed the next five years that our plan covers, is to make sure that we target the public services that we are able to provide, on the people that need them most. And that’s the big challenge that I, in a strange way, am looking forward to taking forward. Because I want to do my best for the people of Cambridgeshire.
ANDY HARPER: And do you see yourself here for the forseeable future, or is this a case of look, let’s get this sorted and try and overcome these immediate problems, and then move on, which often happens?
MARK LLOYD: I’ve come to love Cambridgeshire. I love it as a place to live, and indeed a place to work, and have the utmost respect for my colleagues. So subject to the wishes of my 69 councillors Andy, who have the authority to hire and fire me ..
ANDY HARPER: Yes. Because your fate is in their hands as well.
MARK LLOYD: Indeed. Subject to their wishes, I want to see all of this through. I’ve got no plans to abandon Cambridgeshire. I want to finish what we’ve started..
ANDY HARPER: It’s been great to talk to you. Thanks very much for coming in. That was Mark Lloyd, the Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council.