The Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee was a special meeting with only one main agenda item which was to discuss the 2013/16 Budget proposals which are currently part of a consultation with the public (until 31st January 2013).
The Chair, Cllr John Hale said that in his view the Committee was without a lot of the information he would’ve liked on the Budget options, and that he was “not in agreement with the move to four yearly elections”. He also disagreed with the saving on Destination Marketing as this money “brought an awful lot of visitors to the Wirral” and had spin offs for businesses on the Wirral.
Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem spokesperson) arrived and apologised for being late. The Chair asked Cllr Stuart Wittingham if he had any comments to make?
Cllr Wittingham said he was pleased that most of the savings were to the back office and that he wasn’t saying that the front line wouldn’t be affected. He had no comments to make on a four yearly election cycle but described it as a “substantial saving”.
The Chair said it was not a very substantial saving “at the cost of democracy” and that there was still “insufficient information”. He’d be moving to note matters with the exception of the four yearly elections that he was opposed to and the 100% cut to Destination Marketing, which he said supported major activities and brought in thousands of visitors to the Borough.
Cllr Hale had asked what the Pest Control reduction meant and that the answer given was that it would result in their staff being reduced from five to four. He said it also meant that the home insulation program which had only met 59% of its target wouldn’t be able to continue with the rest. However £50,000 would be kept in the Budget for fuel poverty.
Cllr Gilchrist said that previously when the Council had let people retire or take voluntary redundancy, there had been criteria that had had to be looked at such as the need to pass on their expertise or whether it would cause a problem for the service if they left, he asked if officers had discussed the rationale for restructuring?
The Chair asked Chris Hyams to answer the question.
She said the proposals were either for a restructure or service changes. In the case of a restructure, Chris Hyams said that they would seek volunteers first, but may need to move to compulsory redundancies. In order to maximise redeployment opportunities they would look for volunteers across the organisation. They couldn’t let people go where their jobs were required, but would be looking at things on a proposal by proposal basis.
Cllr Gilchrist made a further comment about redundancies.
Chris Hyams responded said the strategy had been to seek voluntary leavers, but ensuring they had the capacity in the services to let them go “at the appropriate time”. She gave the example of letting volunteers go in day services and redeploying people from residential to day services. However the voluntary leavers couldn’t leave until the redeployed workers were ready to move into their posts. She said they wanted to do it quick enough that they were not incurring the need for more savings, but at a time that was right taking into account their notice periods and with due consultation and process.
The Chair asked about suppliers.
The Wirral Council officer responded by saying, “Yeah Chair, thanks Chair, one of the one of the issues that had been identified through the work that the Local Government Association are doing with us with on the Improvement Plan is a weakness in procurement, how the Council procures its related goods and services. There are a number of processes that we can improve upon, one of the issues is that we have a purchase order system, but the majority of purchases don’t go through that purchase order system. So we believe that by improving the governance of that system to actually make it so that 90% goes through that purchase order system, we’ll be able to negotiate with suppliers and get a better deal. Hopefully the volume issue, we will get a better deal.
We’re also looking at how we actually manage our procurement function. One of the things that we’re doing is basically is to have overall category managers, which have an area of spend rather than the generic purchasing officers. A category manager would have an area of spend for instance Adult Social Services and become knowledgeable in that field and achieve savings with suppliers. We feel that the evidence from other councils is that we’re not getting value for money now just now and that the savings are achievable if we can actually both improve our processes and improve maybe we carry out procurement with these category managers.
It’s a process that’s used in the private sector and maybe we’ll use it in the public sector. We’re looking at best practice elsewhere, we’re getting advice both from other Councils and from the Local Government Association, now we actually need a step change in getting more out of our procurement activity because clearly with the financial challenges that the Council’s facing we’ve got to get more for less in effect and we believe that we can actually achieve the savings in procurement.”