Some time ago the Department for Communities and Local Government published a list of 50 ways Local Councils could save money.
Over the last few weeks I have been asking for a report to look at what we are doing. Of course, I have added a bit to it, adding new examples and amended it. The responses are really helpful to me and give some ideas on further areas to examine. But, in the spirit of openness I thought it would be worth publishing it as a way of provoking debate. Certainly the message to me is we are looking at every opportunity possible. Could we do more? Almost certainly. But, it is also true that there are one or two areas where there appears to be a cut and dried view Nationally when the reality on the ground is that to cut in the way suggested could actually add long term cost.
I wonder how many other Councils could show the sort of progressw e can. So why do we face so much higher levels of cuts proportionately, compared to others.
Anyway, here they are.
1. Share back office services:
Cambridgeshire is a Nationalleader in sharing services. It set up LGSS which is highly successful and saving millions of pounds by sharing all back office professional and transactional services across Cambridgeshire County Council and Northamptonshire County Council. We have seen an £11 million saving and LGSS is now providing services to a range of other organisations including Northampton Borough Council, Huntingdonshire District Council, Norwich City Council and Olympus Care Services.
We also shares services with other Councils and local public bodies as well as being a national groundbreaking authority in looking at sharing our buildings and facilities with other organisations.
2. Community Budgets - Bring staff and money together:
Cambridgeshire is taking part in the Troubled Families initiative which aims to help those families who often most come to the attention of public services and help tackle the route of the problem. This means they have less need for support and reduces the chances of them facing more serious problems, leading to even more costly intervention from services such as the Council or Police.
Cambridgeshire County Council has led the development of the Cambridgeshire Timebanking network. Timebanks - in which people exchange time and skills within their community - strengthen community spirit and provide that ‘little bit of help’ which enables more vulnerable people to continue to live independently. It is a great example of Localism. We believe community organisations and parish councils are best placed to coordinate these initiatives. Our role is to bring together those delivery partners to; link to our services, collaborate for funding and share learning. The network is growing, with five established Timebanks and two new ones currently emerging.
Working with Spice social enterprise, we are also piloting a form of Timebanking which engages with local businesses. When a resident gives time to an organisation they earn one Time Credit for each hour they have given. These credits can then be spent on a range of activities offered on the Time Credit menu. The options range from after school clubs to a swim at the local pool, or a gym session. The initiative has enabled a school, which had previously struggled to engage even a handful of volunteers, to have over 50 engaged within three months. It is also proving to be a great approach to work with local businesses, an easy and effective way for them to use their spare capacity and fulfill their Corporate Social Responsibility.
3. Use transparency to cut waste:
We have been publishing £500 spends on our website to help armchair auditors. The Council also set up Overview and Scrutiny Committees giving Councillors from across all parties the chance to look at the work of the Council and find savings and more effective ways of working.
4. Tackle duplicate payments:
The Council undertook an exercise of this sort some 5 years ago and has recently advertised its intention to repeat the exercise seeking tenders from providers to identify and retrieve any duplicate payments. This is being done as a joint procurement for all LGSS Partners and customers.
5. Clamp down on corporate charge cards:
We have strong controls on the use of Corporate Charge Cards which are supported by Government. This includes making sure only essential users have them and payments are strictly controlled. The use of these cards, however, has direct benefits both to local companies as they get payment for their services immediately rather than waiting for invoices to be processed, and to the local authority in terms of efficiency of paying suppliers where low value purchases are involved. Slow payment of invoices is a risk to the viability of small businesses.
6. Special spending controls:
Spending is tightly controlled. New Contract Regulations (Standing Orders) have been put into place last year to improve controls, reduce external costs and promote greater competition. It also makes it easier for local companies to bid for work from the Council, therefore, benefiting the Cambridgeshire economy.
7. Tackle fraud:
We have a zero tolerance policy to fraud and all identified incidents are reported to the Police. In the last two years there have been two successful prosecutions. We have forged a good relationship with the Cambridge Constabulary Fraud Investigation Team.
We updated the Anti-Fraud and Corruption policies in 2013, introduced a Fraud Response plan that clarifies how the authority will respond to fraud. This was promoted across the authority to integrate it into the culture of the Council.
We are members of National Anti-Fraud Network and receive regular fraud alerts. We disseminate these to interested parties and make sure Procure to Pay staff are kept informed of the risks of creditor bank mandate frauds and have put in place procedures to reduce the risk. (This is were fraudsters contact the council and claim to be one of our suppliers who have changed their bank account details. If you believe them and change your records you end up paying the fraudster and still owe the creditor). Through our vigilance we have detected a case of this and referred it to the Police.
The recent Internal Audit & Risk Management restructure has created a dedicated Fraud Manager post to co-ordinate all fraud investigations across Cambridgeshire County Council, Northamptonshire County Council and Norwich. This gives us access to the skills in the Norwich Benefits Fraud team such as their Accredited Financial Investigator.
8. Claw back money from benefit cheats
Cambridgeshire does not collect benefits from people. But we do help lead the regional squad which recovers money and benefits obtained from crime and fraud. This can include fraudsters who have conned people living on just their pension out of their life savings. Officers, working with colleagues have obtained orders from the court totaling £2 million for the return of money obtained through crime.
9 Get more for less by improving procurement
Procurement is one of the teams that forms part of LGSS and has therefore benefited both in terms of reducing the cost of the Procurement function but more importantly delivering millions of pounds of saving by increasing the economies of scale from our collaborative approach to procurement. . The Council has used new procurement techniques such as reverse auctions and also participate in an online portal – known as www.sourcecambridgeshire.co.uk that is a common portal for a number of public bodies in the East of England and East Midlands – the portal sends alerts to local providers when contracts over £10,000 are advertised making it much easier for businesses to see what contracts are on offer and bid for them. This has been praised by the Federation for Small Businesses.
10 Buying Together
The Council recognises the importance of buying on a collective basis and collaborates wherever possible on its procurement activity at the most appropriate level, whether nationally, regionally, sub regionally or within the County. The Council is a partner in the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO) that is part of PRO5 that is a partnership of the leading collaborative Procurement buying organisations providing best in class deals such as for energy. The Council as previously mentioned is also a founding partner in LGSS and buys collaboratively for a range of services that are more suited to sub regional markets or not covered by national deals. The Council also collaborates at a local level within Cambridgeshire where the market is local in nature and more suited to SMEs.
11 Stop the scope for procurement fraud
We have very strong checks and balances in place to prevent procurement fraud, and as referenced earlier enhanced our Contract Regulations in 2012.
We require Officers to seek a minimum of three quotations on all requirements above £2,000 in value and where this is not possible a specific exemption is required – this both ensures competition and reduces the risk of fraud with individual suppliers.
We provide regular procurement awareness briefings for staff and this focuses on obtaining value for money and transparency in the process.
Our purchase to pay system requires a three step process with separate approvers during the process to reduce the risk of fraud.
Our Internal Audit team are proactive in auditing the procurement process including auditing compliance against our Contract Regulations and contract management – also provide a whistle blowing service.
We also have a published anti bribery and money laundering policy which is also relevant to prevent procurement related fraud within the public sector.
12 Utilise reserves creatively
We have used reserves to help Adult Social Care meet the needs of our most vulnerable and transform the work they do to move to prevention. We use reserves to improve the way we work and drive out efficiencies and have been innovative in creating a rolling fund to help developers bring forward much needed housing schemes that are stuck because of the recession.
We review our reserves and our independent auditors agree they are at a sensible level.
In fact we are ranked 331 out of 336 Local Authorities for level of reserves. We have recently had a peer review which criticised our low levels of reserves.
13 Improve Council Tax Collection rates
Cambridgeshire County Council does not collect Council Tax, that is the job of the district and city councils. However, we will examine collection rates of other Local Authorities and sign post others to them if appropriate.
14 Encourage direct debit and e-billing for Council Tax
City and district councils collect Council Tax. But we have introduced more ways of paying for things online to reduce the cost to our communities and tax payers. We are continuing to look at putting much more online and making it easier for people to use the web as we are investing millions into providing superfast broadband. This aligns with our channel shift work which is seeing a move to online payments from more costly methods. This is also reacting to what our residents are telling us – with around 47 per cent of our online traffic coming from mobile devices.
15 Close council cash offices
Cash offices are mainly used by district and city councils. But we are setting up community hubs so Council facilities are based where communities want them and often share buildings. For example Chatteris Library is a community hub which takes payments through council services provided there.
16 Better land and property management
Cambridgeshire is one of the leading authorities in the country for mapping out and looking to share public owned property and facilities. The County was singled out recently by Government as a pilot authority and has won an award for this work. Community hubs are being set up and buildings are being shared by public services. For example in Cambourn and Ramsey library services share with NHS and other councils. We are currently looking to create a revenue stream from letting our own Castle Court site. Cabinet has also agreed for us to develop a business case to develop our own land holdings. This would make sure tax payers would get best value for the land as well as revenue and provide affordable homes as well.
17 Hot desking, estate rationalization and sub-letting
The Council introduced hot desking many years ago and sub let office space to other organisations and companies bring in a return for the tax payer. Our move out of Castle Court will further reduce our employee to desk ratio.
18 Open up a pop-up shop in spare office space
The Council already hosts businesses from its offices and even invested its pension funds into a new bank which specifically helps small and medium sized businesses which are feeling the economic squeeze.
19 Close subsidized council canteens
A stand alone firms runs, at a profit, canteens in some Council buildings and at Central Library as well as providing meals at some schools in the County and other authorities. This provides local jobs and supports other food providers in the area while bringing in an income.
20 Cancel away days in posh hotels and glitzy award ceremonies
The Council uses its own premises wherever possible for training and even hires out rooms to other organisations. Officers and Councillors very rarely go to award ceremonies and usually these are sponsored.
21 Open a coffee shop in the library
Many libraries have vending machines or local groups run coffee mornings to help promote their work. Central Library has a café. We are exploring further ways of maximizing income generation in our libraries while supporting local businesses.
22 Cut senior pay
Between 2010/11 and 2011/12 cuts to senior management resulted in a saving of £650,000. The Chief Executive has also taken a voluntary pay cut and his expenses are freely available on our website for scrutiny. He was also taken on at a lower salary than his predecessor. Pay for our corporate leadership team has reduced by 25.5 per cent in recent years.
23 Share senior staff
Cambridgeshire is a partner in LGSS where we share senior staff with other authorities. We also work across partners to make sure public services in Cambridgeshire work in a smooth and effective way. Our partner Councils are open to this and we continue to explore this positively.
24 Scrapping the Chief Executive post entirely
A head of paid service is vital for an organisation such as Cambridgeshire County Council which is one of the largest employers in the County with a budget of around £1 billion.
25 Introduce a recruitment freeze
A recruitment freeze has already been introduced. Managers can only recruit if absolutely necessary and posts are reviewed before being advertised.
26 Freeze councillor allowances and end councillor pensions
Councillor allowances have been frozen by the last independent review.
27 Cut spending on consultants and agency staff
The Council has been reviewing and reducing its spend on consultants who are only brought in to do specialist work where there is evidence that the Council does not have the necessary skill. For example, in the case of Connecting Cambridgeshire, this could bring in millions of pounds of investment. Agency staff are only used where necessary and in some cases are vital for delivering services such as care in people’s homes and carry out vital work with some of the most vulnerable in our community.
We continuously look at ways of reducing spend on agency staff. Cabinet recently agreed a new approach to agency spend.
28 End expensive ‘leadership’ courses
We don’t send officers on expensive courses. Officers are only sent on courses (internal or external) where it is necessary for their role and where it will lead to an improvement in their job performance therefore, get better value for money from their time.
29 Cut spending on head hunters and expensive adverts
Adverts are put online and in targeted and most cost effective media where it will attract the most high quality candidates. Any spend on recruitment is carefully scrutinised. However, not all candidates look at Council websites so it makes sense to advertise where they will look.
However, some of our most senior staff have roles which should either save millions or attract millions in inward investment. We reserve ther ightt o ensure we get the best possible people in these posts as a way of saving Council Tax payers money.
30 Review and reduce absenteeism
We have been driving down absenteeism and sickness levels to one of the lowest in public services. Keeping our HR policies and supporting processes up to date and reviewed in line with best practice ensures we can respond and support the management of such.
31 Scrap trade union posts
We have reduced posts. Working well with trade unions has enabled us to avoid large-scale, expensive and disruptive disputes.
32 Charge for collecting trade union subscriptions
The Council charges the unions for the administration involved in providing the service of collecting its members’ subscriptions – the fee charged is averaged at 2% of the total deductions.
33 Stop spending money on commercial lobbyists.
We do not spend money on commercial lobbyists. The Council much prefers to talk to local MPs, ministers and Government officials face to face ourselves. We and our partners have found this far more effective in getting our points across and fighting for our communities. It has resulted in projects such as improving the A14 moving forward as well as Government looking to give the county millions of pounds in extra funding to help manage the development of the new town of Northstowe.
34 Stop translating documents into foreign languages
We do not translate documents into foreign languages as a matter of course. However, there are many ethnic minorities within the County, with a large eastern European population in the north of the county. Sometimes documents may need translating to help these communities access vital services or address issues affecting their particular community.
35 Reduce the number of publications and media monitoring
The Council does not spend any money on media monitoring and has been driving down the cost of publications – saving £300,000 in one year.
36 Earn more from private advertising
The Council already uses advertising and is investigating ways of utilizing this more to bring in a greater income. For example the Council’s roundabouts are sponsored through advertising to cover the cost of maintaining them and therefore saving tax payers money so it can be spent elsewhere on frontline services. We are also advertising on our mobile library vehicles and exploring other options such as our websites and Park and Ride sites.
37 Cease funding ‘sock puppets’ and ‘fake charities’
We don’t fund such groups. In fact in schemes such as ‘Voice Your Choice’ we have empowered local community groups to bid for funds and judge for themselves how to share this money. Putting the money and decision making in the hands of the community.
38 Scrap the town hall Pravda
The Council does not run a Council magazine but keeping our communities in touch with the services we offer and how they can have their say on our work is vital. We use social media as a more cost effective alternative and a good way to engage meaningfully with our communities.
39 Stop providing free food and drink for meetings
Cuts have been made in food and drink available for meetings and this is now paid for from the profits made by the stand alone catering service. Councillors pay for their own meals at Full Council.
40 Reduce First Class travel
Officers and Councillors should always choose the cheapest form of travel and not use first class unless absolutely necessary.
41 Cut mileage payments
The Council has followed the HMRC Approved Mileage Allowance Payment, which is currently at 45 pence per mile, for many years (since Single Status in 1997). This reduces if the mileage exceeds a certain level. Officers and councillors are also encouraged to cycle or walk to reduce congestion. We have reduced spend on mileage by £1.3 million from 2009/10 to 2012/13 and have budgeted for further reductions.
42 Video conferences instead of travel
Video and telephone conferencing has already been introduced within the Council and with other Partners such as LGSS.
43 Help the voluntary sector save you money
As part of our budget setting we have been meeting with voluntary groups to see how we can best help them as well as encourage organisations to come forward with ideas on how they can better deliver services. New policies to enable this have now been approved by Council.
44 Cut printing costs
The Council brought in a new printing framework contract around 5 years ago which saved about 28 per cent in just the first year. The Council also saved £300,000 by looking at spend on marketing material and publications. We continue to explore similar examples and are rigorous in minimizing the number of ‘glossy brochures’ we produce.
45 End lifestyle and equality questionnaires
This are only included in consultations where necessary.
46 Sell services
Under the LGSS arrangement we sell shared professional and transactional back room services to other councils and organisations. This has seen millions of pounds in savings for the Council.
47 Hire out the town hall
Groups can hire out rooms in our main offices and buildings, such as libraries. We actively market them.
48 Lease works of art not on display
A painting by LS Lowry which was bought by Cambridgeshire County Council in the 1940s was sold at auction for £541,250 - £40,000 above its estimate. The money raised went towards the Cambridgeshire Culture programme, to support the cultural experiences of children and young people. Paintings in the possession of the Council are shared between schools to benefit pupils.
49 save money on computer software
The Council has already achieved this in a number of areas one example being hosting of our Oracle ERP solution on a joint basis with Northamptonshire County Council as part of LGSS. The new contract allowed two large local authorities to share a single platform using common processes and the contract is scalable for other public bodies to join at a lower cost than going it alone. The contract saved c£6m over the life of the contract compared to the previous independent approach within both councils.
We drive down costs to use only what software is necessary or best for the job – including the use of free online software or websites.
50 And finally…ask your staff for more sensible savings ideas
We constantly engage with staff and our communities on how we can drive forward improvements. They are an integral part of our budget setting process.
So, there we have it. Apologies for the length of it. But I wanted to publish all of the list not just a selective few.
There are a few dangers in posting this, one of which is that the media and opposition will pick and choose the choice items out of the list and use that as a basis for criticism, when the reality it is the positive progress we have made on the totality that should be looked at. But, as a resident please feel free to comment on any aspect.
A couple of ideas and thoughts have come to my mind whilst doing this work. So I hope the examination I, and others, give it will lead to even more progress.