Newport set for £34 million in cuts
NEWPORT council’s chief executive has set out a radical vision of the future of the authority, with officers tackling possible budget cuts of £34 million by 2017.
Will Godfrey has told the Argus how Newport council may look in four years time, with fewer staff, buildings and services.
The chief executive says he wants to start a conversation with people in Newport about the type of public services the city wants, and what can be delivered within the era of austerity.
His strategy is outlined in a document entitled the “Prospectus for Change”, which has gone to all staff and councillors, which details some of the proposals including a leisure facilities trust and reducing some services that don’t have to be provided by law.
No timescales for changes, or clear figures on how many staff or services may go, are yet available.
However detailed proposals will begin to emerge in December for the 2014/15 budget. A full public consultation will then begin, with estimates that as much as £12 million will need to be cut.
The council is planning to put every item to be saved into the public domain in contrast to last year's process, when a drip-drip of savings emerged.
Mr Godfrey, who has served at the council since the beginning of 2013, said: “I don’t pretend that is going to be easy. I don’t pretend that there are some decisions the council will have to consider that will have to be unpopular.
”If I had £100 today and I’m now being told I’m getting a pay cut and I’m going to get £90 next week, next week I can’t spend £100. That is the financial reality that the council is facing."
He added that the prospectus was the “beginning of this conversation. Members need to reflect on it, we need to do the detailed work in terms of business plans which we will do over the next couple of months.”
Officers were keen to stress the context of their work – with authorities up and down the country facing cuts from in Welsh Government funding as the UK Government tightens the purse strings.
Mr Godfrey said: “I’ve worked for authorities that are Lib Dem, Conservative, whatever, I’ve never worked for a council at the forefront of its mind the desire to provide the best possible services for the communities it services. It is wholly a-political.
“Obviously people will have different political views about how you solve that problem. As we move through to a decision making process there will be different views and we want to understand what those views are, but we want to solicit those views with people understanding the challenge that we’ve got.”
He said the council wants to continue to be focused on delivering the highest quality public services to improve the lives communities, but says the financial reality of the authority is significantly changing.
A Newport Matters will be sent to homes in the middle of September that will talk about the strategy, and the council will invite comments for the public. Councillors have been invited to take part in the Change Programme working group, which is working on 2014/15 budget proposals.
“We want as many reflections back on this as possible,” Mr Godfrey said.
The report says that the council’s budget is likely to fall from £254 million in 2013/14, to £220 million by April 2017, 14 per cent less than the current year.
It reads: “We must think carefully about what we do, what we stop doing, how we do things and who we do them for.”
Strong and united leadership is needed, it argues, as well as the recognition that some services will be reduced to or near to the minimum required by law.
“All services will be delivered by the most effective method, reflecting the commitment to provide the best services to our communities while ensuring our employees continue to be valued,” it reads, while there should be an “improved evaluation of risk.”
It adds the approaches will result in fewer service areas, staff and buildings, and requires the council to understand costs, manage demand better and raise more income.
The strategy proposes that the council should have a mission statement which states that the council should improving people’s lives but also provide the best affordable services.
“I think as an organisation it’s important we have a clear statement about what it is we are here to try to do, so when you are providing social care... at the front of your mind you have what you are here to do,” Mr Godfrey said.
By 2017 leisure services could be run by a new trust, the museum and library could be based in Newport Centre while a city wide Wifi network could help Newport get on the internet.
The ideas are among the proposals for how services will look by 2017 outlined by Newport council in its Prospectus for Change.
Some services could be outsourced, provided with social enterprises or through collaboration with other bodies, but proposals are at an early stage.
Under the proposals, parts of the regeneration and regulatory services department that don’t have to be provided by law would stop being delivered directly where they can’t be self-financing, with some services being commissioned by others or through partners.
It’s not yet clear what services this could include, but non-statutory functions include dog wardens and pest control.
The council wants to increase its visits to city leisure and culture facilities by 3 million by 2017.
But the prospectus includes previously aired proposals for a trust to take over leisure facilities, although it is not currently clear whether it would include the whole estate.
Chief executive Will Godfrey says the authority has to prioritise but that he doesn’t want Newport to be the type of council that "slash and burns leisure services".
He said: “If that’s a way of creating more flexibility and reduce costs that may be a way of protecting those services better.”
A report about the leisure estate and “stepping stones towards alternative delivery” will go to cabinet on the matter on September 9, Mr Godfrey said.
He wouldn’t rule out the Riverfront Theatre going into the hands of a trust, but said they are further advanced in consideration of a trust for the leisure part of the estate than the council’s cultural assets.
A cultural hub, with the city museum and library moving into the Newport Centre, is also proposed but the chief executive said they could be other options.
The current premises housing the library and the city museum has “significant maintenance issues” and that the “current building is not the best in the world”, the chief executive explained.
The authority has proposed rolling out a cross-city wireless internet network for use of businesses and the public in connection with the UK Government-backed Super Connected Cities initiative.
Small and medium sized firms will be offered vouchers to reduce the costs of establishing the costs of establishing improved broadband connectivity.
“The cities that thrive are those that recognise that digital infrastructure is as important as electricity and water,” the chief executive said.
Adult care services could aim to reduce the need for people to be given so-called “formal care” by helping individuals and families care for themselves, taking advantage of new technology.
“We are postulating that we move to a model that is less dependent on residential care, more based in the community,” said Mr Godfrey.
Children’s Services could build on work already done to prioritise preventing problems, reducing reliance on acute services such as putting children in institutions and in care, although children would still be brought into care if there was no safe alternative,
The document recognises there may be fewer education authorities by 2017, as well as changes proposed by the Welsh Government’s Hill review.
Alternative delivery models, such as a joint venture with other councils or the private sector, could be sought for the property services department.
Services provided by the Streetscene department, which maintains roads, collects waste, maintains parks and manages green spaces, could be commercialised with a trading company providing services to other organisations aiming to generate more income.
The council could aim to make corporate services as efficient as it possibly can, Mr Godfrey said. Law and standards services could be modernised with greater use of IT and less reliance on paper based systems, while customer services could aim to be “digital by default or digital by design” with more services provided online.
“More and more businesses and organisations do their business online. We want to do more of that as we think it reflects how people manage their lives and it’s often a cheaper way of doing it,” the chief executive said.
Mr Godfrey agreed there may be some people who will never use online services. “That’s the conversation we need to have,” he said.
Comments are closed on this article.