3 January 2011

.....and the plan is, do nothing!

Scissor Sisters
Late last year Mr David Huxtable was kind enough to invite me to meet him and get the answers to some of the questions that have been bothering me about the antics of the Leadership (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) at County Hall. I had a very pleasant 75 minutes in Mr Huxtable's company and I have to admit that I came away thinking that he had a very comfy office. Other than that, I was probably more in the dark about 'the grand plan' to save millions over the coming 4 years than I was before I met Mr Huxtable.

In November I wrote to Kutter Ken Maddock, the Leader, and shared with him my concerns over 'the cuts'. Ken hasn't bothered to reply (golfing commitments no doubt) and neither has the lovely Ms Sheila Wheeler, Chief Executive, although Ms Wheeler has indicated her intention to reply to my letter, presumably when 'the plan' is ready for public consumption. So, it has been left up to Mr Huxtable to fob me off with flim-flam and platitudes about how serious things are and how 'change' is unavoidable.

Readers of M&B may have seen that I previously published the debt curve that is predicted by County Hall and debt is not scheduled to fall anytime over the next 4 years, which information caused me to ask exactly what was going on. If swingeing cuts in services are proposed then surely that would result in a reduction in debt. But it seems that it won't because National Government is diverting funds that would have come from us taxpayers to the treasury and back to County into .......... the Treasury. In short, our tax is being used to bail-out the Government's finances in exactly the same way that our tax was used to bail-out the bankers.

But, looking at Somerset County Council, what is the Leadership (oxymoron again) doing. Well, in simple terms, they're doing nothing. The idea is that they are going to cut the staffing levels at County by 25% over the next 4 years but they are not actually doing anything to achieve that reduction because, in general terms, natural wastage means that an organisation like County will loose 8% of its staff per annum. If you apply that reduction to the 6,500 staff at County then, after 4 years, the staff level will be 4,656. However, if you CUT the staff by 25% you end up with 4,875 so, do nothing and let natural wastage deliver the 25% reduction. Wizard eh? Doesn't need a rocket scientist to pull that one off.

(A word of caution here - the staffers less likely to leave will be those with better pay and pension arrangements. In an atmosphere of low-morale, as it is today at County Hall, front-line staff will be more likely to leave so, in 4 years time, County will employ 75% of today's staff but the average pay of the remaining staff will be higher than today and they will deliver less in the way of services. Brilliant!)

Then there are the CUTS themselves. What is the Leadership (oxymoron) doing? Well, nothing really. At least, nothing innovative. As Mr Huxtable explained it to me, the idea is that County will reduce its service provision on the basis of statutory obligations. So, if they have a statutory obligation to mend the roads, they will. If they don't, then tough, they won't. Care-workers? If they're not a statutory obligation, Sayonara.

Then there are the County's assets. Mr Huxtable explained that the Council currently occupies 52 sites where there are more than 10 staff and in 4 years time the number of sites will be reduced to 10 and the redundant property sold off. Of everything that we discussed this was the only vaguely strategic and sensible proposal. However, there is a problem here and it was referred to by the BBC in June of last year where the possible glut of property coming onto the market will depress prices. Is there a 'Regeneration Programme' to combat the possibility of vacancy and dereliction? No, because that would be a non-statutory obligation. So, who will buy up all the surplus property in Taunton and across the County and will the taxpayer get royally screwed in the resultant depressed market? The answer to the first is 'friends of the Leadership' and to the second, 'yes'.

So, Kutter Ken and his Crew have a very cunning plan which requires them to do nothing at all. George Osborne (the smug one in the photo at the top of the page) tells Kutter Ken (with the scissors - how subtle) that government is sending them less dosh and that they'll have to cut their cloth to fit. Ken and his pals accept this without a word because their loyalty isn't to the electorate of Somerset, their loyalty is to Central Office and the only way they have a chance of getting a cushy number in a few years time is by doing what they are told. And the the Lib Dems sit idly by and do what they are best at - nothing at all.

It would be interesting to know if any of the clowns at County Hall, the councillors or Leadership that is, have any plans for attracting employment into the County. Now that would be constructive but I forgot, it isn't a statutory obligation.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly