Last Wednesday, the Chancellor, George Osborne, outlined the government’s spending plans for the financial year 2015-16. I was pleased to hear that the government will continue to protect the funding for schools and the NHS - services which hard working families across Brighouse rely upon each and every year.
The spending announcement, of course, was a consequence of the government’s continued efforts to reduce the huge budget deficit left by the last government. So, what does the spending review mean for the residents of Calderdale?
As a Council, we will be looking at making an additional saving of £8million. Whilst this figure sounds rather large, we need to keep in mind that the Council’s annual gross spend is in the region of £450million. As such, the saving that we are being asked to make represents less than 2% of the total expenditure. Now, whilst this will present the Council with a challenge, it is certainly not an insurmountable one.
Transformative councils from across the country have been able to save millions and millions of pounds by working more efficiently, by streamlining their existing management structures, and by sharing services with neighbouring authorities. Among the most innovative councils are the three London boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea who have been able to save over £40 million by working together to share services in certain areas. These backroom savings have enabled these councils to spend more money on the services that matter most to local residents.
There is absolutely no reason why Calderdale cannot follow the lead of these councils in seeking to share services with neighbouring authorities; indeed, the question needs to be asked as to why the current leadership of the council lacks the political will to do exactly this. By their failure to explore adequately the possibilities of reducing backroom costs and sharing services, our Labour council have had to increase Council Tax, increase parking charges for motorists, and worst of all, increase care charges for elderly and vulnerable people.
However, the situation doesn’t have to be like this. Here, in Calderdale, and indeed across West Yorkshire, there are clear dividing lines between the approach of Labour and the Conservatives. We can continue down Labour’s chosen path: cutting services, raising care charges, failing to reform.
Or we can change direction and take the tough decisions that are required to protect vital services both now and in the future: sharing back office services such as human resources, IT and commissioning, streamlining the existing management structure, reducing bureaucracy, reducing senior management pay and tackling vested interests by reducing the number of councillors and the money given to trades unions.