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More services to be slashed as county tackles £30m black hole
DORSET County Council looks set to slash more services and move to outsourcing work as part of a radical plan to find another £30million worth of savings over the next three years.
The move will see the council stripping back and focussing on priorities as it gets to grip with further cuts in public spending.
Reductions in government funding means the money DCC has to spend on services is being slashed by 43 per cent over six years.
The authority had been facing a £48 million shortfall by 2016/17 – but savings of £18million have been identified through a series of agreed projects.
But it still leaves a £30million hole.
This come on top of more than £60million which has already been trimmed from budgets over the last three years and seen the loss of 710 full time equivalent posts.
The process to close the gap further, which is likely to result in further job losses, will see DCC examining the main areas of work it does and prioritising needs while also looking at which services can be changed, provided differently, stopped altogether or outsourced.
The possibility of outsourcing services has come under fire from unions and councillors who fear the quality of service will diminish.
DCC is responsible for a wide range of services, some of which it has a duty to provide and some of which are discretionary. Main responsibilities include schools, social care, children’s services, passenger transport and highways.
Achieving further savings is mapped out in a programme called Forward Together which DCC leader Spencer Flower described as the ‘most radical reform programme’ the council has faced.
He said it involved examining how the council delivers services and investigating how they can be provided in a different way on a reduced budget.
An update on Forward Together will be reported to Cabinet next Wednesday.
The report says the ‘largest risk’ is that even with cost-saving measures in place, more savings are needed.
Projects have been agreed in children’s services, adult and community services, the environment directorate and corporate resources that will make up £18m of the £48m shortfall, with £30m still to find.
Budget summaries reveal the shortfall for the coming year is more than £2m while there is a further £8.5m to be found in 2015/16 and more than £19m the following year.
The report states: “There is a need for the Forward Together Board to identify at its first meeting in 2014 the priority areas of work that the council will undertake.
“This needs to identify the main outcomes that the council will deliver over the next three years, whilst realising the additional £30m of savings.”
It adds: “Once the Forward Together Board has agreed the main areas of work this will form a three year transformation plan that will deliver the required £30m savings.
“If the £30m cannot be identified and delivered then scaling would have to be imposed through budget setting.
“There are inherent risks to service delivery with this fall back position.”
Union expresses concerns over ‘outsourcing’
PAM Jefferies, secretary of the Dorset county branch of trade union Unison, said: “We’re struggling to see where more cuts can come from when so many have been made already. It’s not easy to see what will happen in the next round.
“Outsourcing is the one thing that bothers us as it doesn’t always guarantee the best service. Dorset County Council has been a provider of good services up and we’re anxious how that might change.”
She added: “The county council is looking at being a commissioner of services rather than a provider of services and I don’t care what anyone says but the public don’t get the same service. You only have to look at what has happened elsewhere to see that outsourcing has been a disaster.”
Leader of the Lib Dems on the county council Janet Dover said she would like to see less spending on agency staff and consultants, an issue her group has continued to raise over the last two years.
“There is still a lot of savings to find and we believe there are pockets of expenditure which are not being adequately addressed,” she said.
Commenting on the possibility of outsourcing services, Coun Dover said the ‘preference would be to always keep things in-house.’ She added: “As has been proved elsewhere, the outsourcing of services doesn’t necessarily mean large savings are achieved over a sustainable period.
“We should be very careful before going down that route. We have to ensure it’s sustainable and brings in true savings, and a quality service is being provided. The public deserve the best.”
Kate Wheller, speaking for the Labour group, said there were ‘huge’ figures involved in the amount that needed to be saved and clearly there were ‘very difficult’ times ahead.
She said Labour councillors were unhappy about a move to outsourcing, especially in areas such as social services where vulnerable groups could be affected by the change in providers of care.
Coun Wheller said: “Outsourcing would only be supported if there was confidence the level of service provided was suitable for our users.
“We’re very anxious that these vulnerable groups are secure.
“We will be monitoring this very closely.”
Radical reform needed to cut council budget
LEADER of Dorset County Council Spencer Flower said ‘tremendous pressure’ had been placed on local government to help central government deal with the deficit, and the council was examining how it delivers services in light of vastly reduced funding. He said there will be no ‘no-go’ areas as everything will be examined.
With such massive cuts in funding – the net budget is being reduced from £305m to £200m – the authority will be ‘unrecognisable’ in three years’ time Coun Flower said.
He said: “I hate using the word ‘cutting’ services. We are looking at the service we deliver.”
He added: “I won’t say there will be more job losses. We have already seen the loss of 710 full time equivalent posts. I’m not sure how more there will be. But it would be equally wrong to say there won’t be further reductions given that our personnel budget is our biggest expenditure.”
Coun Flower said outsourcing services was among the options up for discussion.
He said: “We are a fairly traditional council in that we don’t outsource much. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing as long as we end up with the quality of service and can produce significant efficiency savings.
“The fact is we need to get to grips with these reductions in funding and we can’t borrow money to balance the books.”
Despite big changes ahead and a need to trim down, Coun Flower remains positive and maintains that if it has to be done, then try and do it well.
He said: “I assure you that this is not a partisan position. We may argue over the detail, but opposition councillors acknowledge the need for change. There’s a recognised need for radical reform.”
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