Council ‘got off lightly’ on cuts

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COUNCIL leader Tom Fox has said he felt Scarborough Borough Council had got off lightly in terms of budget cuts, compared with North Yorkshire County Council.

Speaking at a packed Probus Club meeting, Councillor Fox added that a change in budgeting, brought in under the leadership of his predecessor, Eileen Bosomworth, had helped.

He said: “We moved from a salami-slicing approach of paring down individual departments by five or 10 per cent to a pro-active approach based round a three-year plan. That is now a five-year plan.”

“Money saved, job done” had been the old approach, but that meant that inefficiencies went undetected.

As an example he cited tourism and parks and gardens which had set budgets, but were not closely managed in terms of how the budget was targeted.

“When we looked at parks and gardens, we found the borough was cutting other people’s grass for nothing. The management just wasn’t there.”

Two other areas of inefficiency have been identified - contracts for casual labour and 20 different methods of paying for overtime.

He said Town Hall staff had been reduced from 1,800 in 2006 to 1,200 this year, but claimed it had been “a gentle journey”, adding the aim had always been to minimise redundancies by a managed programme.

Heads of department have been reduced from 12 to eight, directors from five to two, and 58 managers had been cut back to 24.

The meeting was Coun Fox’s last engagement before he enters a period of “election purdah”, which is imposed from six weeks before the local election.

Last week the Whitby Gazette reported how Coun Fox, who has been leader of Scarborough Council since 2006, warned the Government that its policy on spending cuts could result in chaos.

He also said in an email to communities secretary Eric Pickles that the policies could lead to a postcode lottery for council services.

The correspondence was sent to Mr Pickles on 10 January after it was announced that the council would be forced to save £4.2 million over the next two and a half years. Although publicly the council insisted they were well positioned to deal with the settlement and preserve front-line services, the email, made public under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals the frustration felt within the Town Hall at the frontloading of the cuts.