What do Labour’s cuts for 2015/16 mean for services?

By - Monday 15th December, 2014

The closure of Purley pool draws fire – but what will follow? Sean Creighton on the Labour cuts package

Bernard Weatherill House. Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Croydon’s Conservative opposition has homed in on the Labour council’s plan to close Purley swimming pool as part of its cuts to achieve a balanced budget in 2015/16. Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell is leading the campaign opposing the closure to strengthen his chances of re-election at the general election.

Because of the way the budget cuts information is being presented, this threatened closure is the only easy campaign target. It is as if Labour has deliberately included this in the early stages of budget-setting to draw attention away from the key question: what will be the effect of these cuts to services on the ground?

The preliminary budget detail is being submitted to the council’s Scrutiny and Oversight Committee on Thursday 18th December for a pre-budget setting review.

Many of these cuts are shrouded in gobbledegook

The majority of the staff cuts are in the back rooms sections of the Chief Executive’s Department (45.5 full time equivalents) and in Development/Environment and the Department of Adult Services, Health and Housing (13 FTEs.). In other areas there are either zero cuts or very small numbers.

Alongside cuts are proposed measures to increase the council’s income, including:

  • charging for removal of building and DIY waste – which risks encouraging further illegal dumping
  • charging residents for new replacement bins, which risks residents being charged when their bins are stolen or are damaged in the collection process, and encouraging flytipping of waste if people cannot afford bins

A lot of cuts are shrouded in ‘gobbledegook’, such as those to family-based early intervention services: a ‘review of all commissioned services to reduce contract rates and create service efficiencies’ is proposed. Does this mean pay cuts for contractors’ staff and reductions in service quality?

Then there are cuts which look reasonable but which may actually cover up real problems, such as cuts to the youth offending service: there is to be a ‘reduction in staffing costs due to a reduction in the re-offending provision.’ While there may be such a reduction, does it mean that those still involved in offending are hard-core repeat offenders with whom working is more costly?

Could these cuts jeopardise services for children in care?

It is proposed to reduce spending on looked-after children (those in council care) by £1.485m. This spend is currently over budget, due to the increase in numbers of children taken into care. Could ‘savings’ put at jeopardy the quality of placements, with staff salary reductions and service standards reductions as part of what the Labour administration describes as ‘continu[ing] to drive down costs and rates of placements with independent fostering agencies’?

It is proposed to reduce support to:

  • the music service, ‘compensat[ing] for [this] by increased trading opportunities’. Really – from what sources? The academies? Individual tuition?
  • Croydon faith education resources: ‘in the context of the increasing availability of electronic resources, [we will] cease funding for this organisation.’

The following additional areas have also been identified for reduction:

  • Labour hopes to save £900,000 with the creation of the new trading entity for school improvement services which will involve the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) transfer of 90 staff
  • Purley pool will close to avoid spending £0.781m on urgent maintenance. The dry side fitness and gym facilities will be extended whilst regeneration plans are taken forward
  • Grounds maintenance of green spaces: £140k to be cut across the borough to achieve ‘operational contract efficiencies’. Perhaps the review should explore the creation of a social enterprise to undertake the work, including work placements for school pupils and apprenticeships and training for those with learning difficulties
  • The cost of death: fees and charges at the crematorium are set to be increased
Life is getting more difficult for those not on the web

In order to become more open and transparent, the Labour administration is planning to:

  • reduce ‘customer contact and resourcing costs as a result of further online service delivery and systems integration’. This presumably includes reducing paper versions, making it more difficult for those not on the web to participate. Does this shutting out of some groups have equalities and inclusion implications?
  • reduce its ‘current face to face service offer’ with reduced opening hours for the Access Croydon counter service and the same reduction in New Addington (a one hour fifteen minute reduction every weekday)
  • reduce current phone service offer times, risking ‘service demand rising during shorter opening hours’.
I want to see analysis of the effects of cuts

An important set of information is missing from the papers to the Scrutiny Committee: the planned expenditure of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy monies on different projects. These are monies paid by developers for economic, employment, education, transport etc. spending as a condition of planning permission.

Let’s take, for example, Section 106 money allocated to be spent in parks. Cllr Godfrey told the council meeting on 1st December that there are three projects for Park Hill Park being financed by Section 106. How many other parks are to benefit from Section 106? How many staff are there in the Parks Technical Team? Is this sufficient to implement all the Section 106 schemes (and other projects) across the parks?

I hope that the town hall trade unions will publish a public analysis of what they think the effect of the proposed cuts will be, and the real ‘savings’ that could be made without adversely affecting service delivery.

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Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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