UNISON has provided specific comment on a number of the many cuts proposed by West Berkshire Council for the municipal year 2015/16.
In this statement the West Berkshire Council branch provides a more strategic comment about the proposals in their entirety, including the impact that they are likely to have on the residents of the district. The branch’s view is set out in the points below.
Had it done so (by increasing Council Tax by 2% in 2013/14 and 2014/15, rather than accepting the government’s ‘freeze’ grant of only 1%) it would now be £1.6m per annum better off. The base for any future increases would also be commensurately higher.
This current round of cuts is therefore deeper than it needed to have been and is repayment for the political decision not to make modest increases in Council Tax. The Council should not make the same mistake again when setting future Council Tax charges.
From 2017, when the power is introduced, the Council should take the opportunity for an additional 2% rise in Council Tax to help protect Adult Social Care provision.
The effect of many of the cuts – which in a number of instances are for preventative work or early intervention – will be that costs are shunted to other organisations and, in some cases, to other parts of the Council. This is a false economy – prevention is better than cure – and the additional work will be loaded on to already overburdened staff. The potential impact on staff in the Children and Family Service – which still has well-documented recruitment and retention problems – is particularly concerning.
For a small number of the cuts, the mitigation measures set out by the Council themselves feature elsewhere in the proposals (for example the cut to the Alana House Satellite Service will be balanced by redirection of clients to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Children’s Centres, both of which are also subject to cuts).
Councillors now cost local taxpayers in excess of £500k per annum and the stated intention to conduct a boundary review (and thereby reduce the number of councillors and their associated costs) shows no sign of yet beginning, much less concluding. The Council remains disproportionately over-represented, creating a drain on funding that could and should be redirected to services to the public.
The £7k per annum cost of catering for councillors (this is for central catering, which is provided in addition to the £7,324 basic allowance paid to all councillors, and is already overspent for the municipal year 2015/16) should cease and be redirected to the delivery of services.
There is also questionable value to the public in the expenditure of c£32k (plus on-costs) for the Council-funded post that provides administration and other support to the ruling Conservative group. This post supports the 48 Conservative councillors only, the identical Liberal Democrat group post having already been deleted. The money from this post should also be redirected to frontline public services.