As the worldwide recession continues to grip the UK, all councils are facing up to extremely challenging times.
Councils are bracing themselves against two financial storms – one is the recession itself, and the other is helping to pay back the massive bank bail-outs and serious measures which were needed to pull the country out of the downturn.
These vital measures to stave off a deep depression have doubled UK central government borrowing when compared to 2007.
Interest on that debt has to be serviced, as well as the amount repaid, and this reflects the situation with levels of public debt not only in the UK but in other developed countries including Germany, America and Japan.
As well as dealing with these national challenges, the council must consider other issues such as a drop in income, the increased cost of safeguarding children at risk and looking after the elderly, higher demand for housing in Kirklees and an expected fall in government grant.
Huge savings will need to be made, and Kirklees Council is already looking ahead by drawing up a plan for significant changes to its budget.
All of these pressures mean the council needs to reduce its budget by around 20 per cent over a carefully managed five-year period, This will happen under the Innovation and Efficiency (I & E) programme.
Kirklees Council chief executive Rob Vincent said changes to the organisation would ultimately help performance.
He said: “We must not only continue providing vital services but take this opportunity to improve them.
“Managers within the council have set out the new I & E programme and it is intended to make savings by ensuring the council increases productivity.
“This is about rising to a difficult challenge. We need to redesign services, work differently with partners and make changes to our management and staffing structure whilst ensuring frontline services won’t suffer as a result.
“We have already delivered efficiency savings of £139 million over the last five years, but local government is facing its most difficult test for at least a generation.
“The expertise and dedication of our staff means we can meet these challenges and come through as a leaner and even fitter organisation.”
Kirklees is one of the biggest metropolitan councils in the country, with a staff of around 19,000 and an annual overall spend of £1 billion in its combined capital and revenue budgets.
The main focus of the I & E programme will be savings in areas such as office accommodation, procurement and premises, but there will also be a significant impact on jobs as the council looks to make management arrangements and decision making simpler, more flexible and more effective.
Cliff Stewart, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, said: “Kirklees Council will be a very different organisation, operating with far more flexibility and a greater focus on customers.
“All of our employees are involved in the programme and we fully recognise that these changes are going to be a worrying time for employees and their families, as well as the most vulnerable people in the borough.
“Thorough plans are being developed to better understand the qualities of our workforce and the skill sets that will be required in future.
“We will support people to adapt to new ways of working and, of course, we are very much aware of the impact of job losses on the local economy.”
The council will consider many factors, including how to increase the number of apprentices while reducing the size of the workforce and how to match council requirements within the new budget.
Adrian Lythgo, Director of Finance, said: “It’s vital that this programme is delivered at pace because reduced income and loss of grant means we are up against difficult deadlines.
“Privatising services is not on the agenda. We are not aiming for a short-term quick fix. This is about developing our services in a challenging financial climate and making brave but wise decisions to continue to operate effectively for the public within this changed environment.”
Detailed plans under the Innovation and Efficiency programme are expected to be published by the council in around three months.