Friday, October 30, 2009

Whitby in charge


Mike goes from strength to strength.

Not only is he now taking personal charge of the search to find somebody capable of running the vital regeneration department of the City Council, Mike is also leading on negotiating with the employees. To demonstrate his commitment to consulting with these public servants, Whitless decided that the best way to announce plans to shed 800 council jobs (on top of the thousands already planned to go under the cover of ‘Business Transformation’) was to announce it to the press first in the form of a softball interview on the Politics Show last weekend.

He even managed a dig at the government – if only Gordon and Alistair had been as prudent with the borrowing as Mike, then things would really be so much better. Just a reminder – Mike has doubled the debt to something north of £2 billion in five years, money which has been used to fund assorted Mike Whitby Memorial Vanity Projects and also to ensure that the council tax stays at an inflation-busting level (against a background of record increases in government grant, as well). The council looks set for an overspend of £40 million – or more – this year and seems incapable of producing up to date financial figures. Then there are the little things like the £2.8 million overspend on building a poor and unreliable website that has managed to cost an additional £6 million in lost savings because of those delays and lack of functionality, with no apparent penalty against the contractor, who are now being lined up to take over other council services like planning. I’d hate to see things if Mike wasn’t being prudent.

Gordon and Alistair have been piling on the pounds to ensure that the country stays vaguely solvent following a catastrophic failure of the commercial banking system.

Paul Dale returned to the fray during the week, in a rather good article where he suggested that we should take an interest in the monthly scrutiny committee meeting led by Conservative councillor James Hutchings, who is

gradually exposing under-delivery of the local authority's ambitious business transformation programme... Coun Hutchings and his colleagues have spent more than a year attempting to wheedle out of business change director Glyn Evans precisely how these savings are to be made

I'm not surprised that Cllr Hutchings is having trouble. I've not had a straight answer to simple questions about how Business Transformation is actually supposed to deliver savings. As anyone who has had any involvement with trying to make savings in the business sector, that usually involves job losses, but the council has been working overtime to conceal that fact.

The Neighbourhood Offices are slated for closure as the process rolls forward and the council will simply pull out of providing services - scrapping the meals on wheels service is just the start of it. The plan has been to achieve this through natural staff wastage, rather than compulsory redundancy, but this is proving hard to achieve - perhaps the economic downturn is reducing the natural outflow of staff a little. Whitby has another solution
"We will be looking at the use of agency staff so we can control the number of people we employ”
Hang on a sec, Mike. Agency staff have the advantage for an employer of being available when required and equally disposable. However, this benefit comes at a cost – they are typically rather more expensive than those in direct employment. A number of departments have seen experienced staff slide off to become contract workers because the pay is better and the pressure is less.

The problem is that the forecast savings from the BT programme simply aren't being generated - but they have been included in annual budgets, so that departments have to fill the gap if the savings don't materialise as planned and that just means quick solutions, which translates into more job cuts.

I have a suspicion that the Business Transformation programme is being run by a particular sort of wizard with a penchant for smoke, mirrors and a bit of glib talk, but getting by on promises of a better future - as long as you don't ask how we get there or query why we appear to be heading in the wrong direction.

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