A CONTROVERSIAL handbook which gives town halls 50 ideas for saving money has been slated as “utterly patronising.”
Local government minister Eric Pickles has sent all councils a guide for wasting less cash – including selling off old buildings, sharing staff and scrapping free food and drink at meetings.
But the booklet has been lambasted by politicians, many of whom say virtually every single idea is already being done. Worcester City Council has examined the entire list and say there is not one which can be applied.
Councillor Andy Roberts, the cabinet member for finance, said: “When you’ve worked as hard as we have to make savings, I find this utterly patronising to be honest. These ministers need to get out a bit more and actually see the work councils are already doing to save money.
“I’m very annoyed with it. I’ve been through it and there isn’t anything we can take on board, I do think he’s discredited himself with this.”
One idea is to stop automatically translating documents into different languages, but Coun Roberts said the council does not do this anyway, unless it gets a specific request from a resident.
Another idea is to cut senior management, but in 2010 the Guildhall halved the corporate management team from six to three and reduced a second tier of executives from 15 to nine, saving £360,000 a year. The city council is looking to save £1.2 million by 2015 by cutting 26 other jobs, and wants to shed another £5 million by handing services to new providers. No councils in the county currently offer food at meetings, and when it comes to sharing staff, all south Worcestershire authorities already share certain services, such as benefit collections. Worcestershire County Council is also trying to bring in £14 million by selling up to 18 unused sites it owns, while the district authorities have very little spare office space not already rented out.
Another idea on the list is to “sell services”, with Mr Pickles citing the example of Birmingham City Council, where the legal department now offers advice to outside companies.
But many authorities say the amount of staff they have cut in recent years makes it difficult to take on more work from outside.
Councillor Paul Cumming, Malvern Hills District Council’s executive member for finance, where £1.3 million of savings are needed by 2015, was also sceptical. He said: “We don’t have people sitting around who can offer services. In any case we would not want to compete with local businesses.”