Now that the dust has settled on the headlines of councils’ budgets, what does the detail tell us? Largely, that very little changes. That every year, officers and elected members engage in a highly sophisticated game of brinkmanship over cuts, only now they have brought “the people” into the process through extended and largely impotent consultation processes. Because whatever it is that those hardy members of the public who toddle along to be bombarded by financial science think they are nodding in agreement with, I’m pretty sure it isn’t that children should pay the highest price of austerity.
And that’s exactly what Glasgow City Council has done. To some extent, it is inevitable if, like most councils, a one-size fits all approach to budget cut-making is taken. If the call is for each department to bring forward their 5% cuts options, then education and social work as local authorities’ biggest spenders will indubitably end up with a bigger proportion of cuts.
Despite it continuing to be the mode for budget-making all over the country, it really won’t do. Nor will the lack of detail and trust in ability to use the ubiquitous review to save pennies. A review is local government’s equivalent of searching through all coat pockets and at the bottom of all bags, purses and wallets for change for the bus. And to think we pay these people big salaries for the privilege.
Thus, in Glasgow, its related companies – the arms length bodies which have caused no little controversy in recent years – are going to save nearly £1 million through a range of efficiencies. Glasgow City Marketing Bureau is taking its PR activity in-house and saving the taxpayer £36k per year while Glasgow Life is building on its current energy efficiency scheme with staff to save £240k this year. Funnily enough, the amount saved drops to £100k in 2014-15 and there is no sign of an accumulated, ongoing saving. Does this mean that staff won’t be exhorted quite so much to turn off the lights and the heating down next year?
Similarly, Land and Environmental Services is going to save the taxpayers £276,000 this year (and nothing next) through “efficiencies in contracts management in the supply base coupled with income generation measures”. All of which remain currently unspecified. Development and regeneration services goes one better by offering up “non essential spend efficiencies” from a “reduction in expenditure across subscriptions, printing and advertising through a review and streamlining of processes”. Though its saving of £50k this year reduces to £20k next year. Is it too radical to suggest that all non-essential spend should just cease?
Aside from tinkering around the margins of what they do, these types of services are offering up their biggest savings either through jobs going or by hiking up prices and charges. Though, of course, they don’t say that jobs will go. Corporate Services aims to find over half a million of savings this year from “corporate and service productivity reforms”; Glasgow Life will “more closely align workforce with service using better staff scheduling” to save a substantial £1.1 million over 2 years; and Land and Environmental Services will put an additional £1.3 million into the kitty through increased income generation through “a renewed focus on marketing and trading by in-house teams encompassing recycling income, Glasgow Flowers, grounds maintenance, bereavement services and transport”. What this means is that they will charge education more for grass cutting of school pitches in a classic robbing Peter to pay Paul manoeuvre and charge folk more to be buried.
But this is all pie in the sky in any event. There is no guarantee of the level of income generation forecast. If there are detailed calculations and equations behind any of these figures, I’d love to see them: more likely, a blunt percentage increase on income generated in previous years was applied. And if the increased income doesn’t materialise, are these same departments expected to make their efficiencies in other ways? Don’t count on it. Which puts even more pressure on front-line services which spend considerable amounts like education and social work.
In education, the workforce is going to take a battering. Remember the stushie in Renfrewshire over the SNP’s proposal to cease providing teachers in nursery schools? Guess what? It’s being done in Glasgow but ever the wily political veterans, the Labour group has buried this proposal in a £5million package of “alterations to staff allocation”. The council intends over the next two years to raise class sizes in primary schools (“review of staffing formula in primary schools”), cut subject choice in secondaries (“improved timetabling in secondaries to maximise staffing”), replace teachers in nurseries with “team leader child development officers” and will hit additional support for learning staffing for a second time in this budget. The only measure which suggests planned rather than panicked reprovisioning is the shift to “cluster heads for early years”.
And if we were in any doubt that it is children – and the most vulnerable children – who will bear the brunt of Glasgow’s budget savings, the £2.4 million saving identified for additional support for learning by reducing additional support for learning staff, merging and relocating more establishments, reforming hospital education and stopping the ASL summer programmes confirm it. Additionally, there will be a review of out of school care lets where out of school care services do not run to capacity – which probably means stopping lets to clubs and schemes in poorer areas where higher unemployment ensures there is less demand for after school care. The cost of a school dinner and a breakfast club place is going up, and for the first time, charges will be introduced for fruit and snacks in nurseries on the grounds that it brings pre-school children into line with school age.
In social work, there are jobs and front line services going and privatisation by stealth. The meals service is putting prices up, limiting choice to two courses and moving 390 Cordia clients of its meals at home service “to an alternative service provider who deals directly with clients”. This package provides a one off saving of £306,000. £87,000 will be saved by “redirecting” transport provision for playschemes and community groups; Cordia is stopping its handperson service; and posts will be done away with in hospital social work services, the centre for sensory impairment, community work and homelessness teams. As usual, the voluntary sector will take a big hit totalling over £2 million in 2 years. Apparently there will be “minimal impact on service users”. Yep, that’s what they always say.
What amazes me is how little of this kind of detail finds its way into the public domain, through the media. The detail of the figures might be dull but the potential impact is not. What Glasgow City Council’s budget means is a hard time in the next two years for low income families in particular. It’s bad enough the ConDems whacking their living standards with their austerity measures without local councils adding to their misery.
Yet, this same council has a restricted reserve fund of £4.6 million for culture and recreation, which includes the Commonwealth Games. This fund, it says, is fully committed for the coming year ie that it is spent already. Never mind that some families will be struggling to give their children enough to eat in the next year, at least there will be a circus to take their mind off the hunger pangs.