How the good ship SBC has navigated the dire straits of £13M funding gap

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DETAILS of the impact on Scottish Borders Council services of bridging a funding gap of £13million in the forthcoming financial year without making compulsory redundancies were unveiled at the weekend.

Council leader David Parker said the draft revenue budget of £266million in 2011/12 was “99.8 per cent certain” of being the package councillors will be asked to ratify on February 10 when local authorities across Scotland will freeze Council Tax for the fourth successive year.

Despite across-the-board increases in the charges levied by SBC for its myriad services – from frozen meals for the elderly to burial lairs – a much greater role for the private sector, particularly in social work services, and pay freezes for staff, Mr Parker hailed the spending plans as “sound”.

And he contrasted the position in the Borders with that of other Scottish local authorities, including Aberdeen City Council where 900 compulsory job losses are on the cards. He said the Conservative/Lib Dem/Independent administration had “demonstrated that our approach to financial planning has paid dividends as we are not facing some of the traumatic budgetary cuts and changes many other local authorities are facing”.

He added: “Despite the very challenging financial climate, we have been able to protect frontline services and deliver on the key priorities of the Borders public. It has been, however, the most challenging budget SBC has ever faced.”

Mr Parker is acknowledged as having played a key role, as part of the negotiating team of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) in brokering a 2.6 per cent cut in the annual funding received from the Scottish Government, compared to the 6.4 per cent hit being taken by the so-called non-protected public services in Scotland.

At Newtown, the reduction in the Holyrood grant, which accounts for 80 per cent of SBC’s annual revenue spend, amounts to £6.2million in 2011/12 and, in exchange, SBC has signed up to freezing Council Tax, maintaining pupil teacher ratios in P1-3, guaranteeing free personal and nursing care, and reviewing the terms and conditions of teachers.

Therefore, Council Tax will remain at £1,084 for Band D, although the levy will bring in an extra £400,000 from April 1 because of an increase in households since last year.

SBC’s quid pro quo obligations to the Scottish Government are just part of “service pressures” – not least those resulting from the changing demographic of a region with a burgeoning elderly population – amounting to £8.5million in 2011/12.

The council is also banking on raising £823,000 by upping charges.

The price of frozen meals for the elderly will rise from £2.60 to £3, burial lairs will cost £450 (up from £284) and bus fares will increase by 3.5 per cent. An average fee of £100 will be levied for the retrieval of historic planning documents: a service currently delivered free.

Councillor Neil Calvert, executive member for finance, announced that reserves would be £5.9million to cover a range of eventualities, from severe winter weather to volatile borrowing costs, equal pay claims to early retirement costs.

Last week’s briefing sought to explain the cumulative effect of £5million worth of savings agreed in June (relating to the non-expansion of nursery education and the freezing of recruitment), £7million in cuts given the nod in November and a hitherto unaccounted balance of £1.6million.

Messrs Calvert and Parker outlined the departmental service pressures (required spending), efficiency measures and rationalisations (cuts) which will be presented for approval on February 5.

BREAKDOWN BY DEPARTMENT

Chief Executive and Resources

2011/12 budget: £4.146million (down £219,000 on current year); full-time equivalent (FTE) staff: 482.

Service pressures of £235,000, including less income from school meals (£82,000); loss of rent from Chambers Institution in Peebles (£53,000); and revamp of communications (PR etc) section (£64,000).

Efficiences of £744,000, including freezing of posts (£45,000); deletion of bus manager and assistant property manager posts (£85,000); deletion of solicitor, trainee solicitor and committee administrator posts (£102,000); switching off all office heating from June 1 to August 31 (£100,000); improved financial systems (£90,000); and relocation of Hawick social work office (£30,000).

Cuts of £183,000, including reduced community grant budget (£50,000); office cleaning going from five to four-day pattern (£84,000); less spending on European initiatives (£12,000); holding household survey every two years instead of annually (£16,000).

Corporate Programmes and Projects

2011/12 budget: £26.357million (down £1.847million); FTE staff: 8.5.

Service pressures of £2.005million, including the cost of early retirals and voluntary severance (£1million); increased requisition to Lothian and Borders Fire Board (£154,000); increased housing benefit (£70,000); more non-domestic rates relief (£73,000); fighting employee appeals against new job designations (£81,000).

Efficiencies of £1.829million, including improved procurement processes (£224,000); creation of new department, combining technical services and planning and economic development (£1million); and police requisition (£519,000).

Cuts of £383,000, including reduced support for special projects involving food and health, cookery, family centres etc (£63,000); reduction in contract for Borders Young Carers (£32,000); and less support for services to support migrants (£39,000).

Education and Lifelong Learning

2011/12 budget: £94.548million (down £2.092million); FTE staff: 1,714.

Service pressures of £1.219million, including higher rateable values for schools (£156,000); removal of ring-fencing of Scottish Goverment support for quality assurance and “determined to succeed” programmes (£551,000); and savings not achieved from early retirements of teachers (£132,000).

Efficiencies of £1.637million, including increase in class contact time for probationary teachers (£300,000), paying supply teachers only for hours worked (£250,000); improved class planning and school roll projections (£267,000); alteration of cleaning patterns in schools to a nine-day fortnight (£107,000); and reduction in sport and healthy living activity budget (£111,000).

Cuts of £455,000, including reduction in quality improvement officers (£41,000); redeployment of staff from Roberton Primary School which is now closed (£75,000); transfer of in-service days from Langlee training centre to schools (£48,000); reduction of pupils’ clothing and footwear grants (£17,000); less funding for community centres (£43,000); and less support for adult learning (£41,000).

Social Work

2011/12 budget: £77.363million (down £2.471million); FTE staff: 1,335.

Service pressures of £2.047million, including increase in number of children in care (£500,000); rise in elderly client numbers (£460,000); commitment to free personal care (£150,000); and continuation of adult support protection (£338,000).

Efficiencies of £1.275million, including redesign of care services (£159,000); transfer of more home care to produce 60:40 ratio in favour of private providers (£120,000); renegotiation of contracts for service delivery (£413,000); streamlining of social care and health management (£105,000); and improved management of day centres (£44,000).

Cuts of £476,000, including rationalising children’s services transport (£200,000); removal of funding for sheltered housing wardens (£107,000), withdrawal of contract with the homeless charity Shelter (£28,000); and reduction in laundry services (£30,000).

Planning and Economic Development

2011/12 budget: £2.293million (down £382,000); FTE staff: 100.

Service pressures of £150,000 to support small businesses and maximise the economic opportunities of sporting events, including the 2011 Tour of Britain and the Jim Clark Rally.

Efficiencies of £233,000, including cutting posts in planning, building standards and economic development (£163,000).

Cuts of £103,000, including reduced funding to Visit Scotland (£65,000), halting support for shop local promotions (£10,000); and less funding for food and drink sector (£9,000).

Technical Services

2011/12 budget: £29.314million (down £591,000); FTE staff: 591.

Service pressures of £123,000, comprising provision of refuse collection sacks (£47,000) and removal of income budget (£76,000).

Efficiencies of £136,000, including the use of salt additives for gritting (£30,000), optimising the clearing of gullies (£20,000); and sharing transport services with NHS Borders (£25,000).

Cuts of £255,000, including reducing the fleet of mechanical road sweepers (£50,000); cutting the inspection cycle for minor roads (£20,000); and reviewing bus services (£70,000).