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County council staff warned over major job cuts

PUBLISHED: 09:22 20 May 2010

Andrea Hill, the Suffolk County Council chief executive

Andrea Hill, the Suffolk County Council chief executive

Archant

HUNDREDS of jobs will go at Suffolk County Council – but staff are not doing enough to prepare for the brave new world.

That is the blunt message to thousands of council staff from chief executive Andrea Hill in her latest newsletter.

Mrs Hill warns that while the council has developed a policy entitled “A New Strategic Direction,” staff have been far too slow in putting it into practice.

She said: “I am more convinced than ever that our new strategic direction is right.

“We spent many months co-authoring it and sharing it. My concern is that we are not delivering it.

“People know the ‘burning platform’ of financial crisis is coming, but we are acting as if it’s off the shores of Louisiana – too remote to affect us.”

She warned that losing jobs was not the answer to the council’s financial problems – a gap of £153 million is expected to open up in the council’s budget by 2013.

She said in the newsletter: “This will mean fewer people will work for the council in the future. There will be job losses. I don’t know how many – if I did, I would tell you – but we need to reduce our staffing costs.

“Just reducing our headcount however won’t close our budget gap: I thought it would, but I was wrong. If we cut our managers by 30% – that’s about 400 posts – it would save £55m. So cutting jobs alone is not enough.

“I don’t expect us to be running a big redundancy programme because we can’t afford it.”

Mrs Hill says she wants to reduce the demand on the council’s services: “To prevent the £153m budget gap, we need to switch off the demand for our services in two ways: by addressing the root cause of social problems and fixing them once and for all; and by building social capital to strengthen communities to help themselves.

“Where services still need to be provided, we will work collaboratively with district councils, health, police and the voluntary sector to join up services across the public sector using lean systems thinking to cut out waste and meet real (rather than perceived) customer needs.

“Currently the council is not fit to do this.”

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard was surprised by the tone of the newsletter.

She said: “I’m not sure what she means about switching off the demand for services – how do you switch off the demand for children’s services? How do you stop people becoming old and frail? Do you stop them from using libraries? It just doesn’t make sense.

“And we pointed out that the council took on a lot of new members of staff last year. Is that all going to be pushed into reverse?”

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke has said that the county badly needs to change the way it operates, and that Mrs Hill was hired because of her skill at coming up with radical solutions to serious problems facing the county.

“That is why we felt we had to pay for the best when it came appointing a new chief executive,” he said.

The full text of Mrs Hill’s newsletter:

Reshaping the council: A call to action

On Friday, whilst the country was excitedly watching the outcome of the General Election and who might form the next government, there was as much energy and excitement in a community hall in Kesgrave. Why? Because 175 managers from across the council were working out how to implement the New Strategic Direction.

We know a new government signals a new era of financial austerity. With the General Election Campaign over, politicians of all parties will need to get real about the size of the spending cuts to come. I’m not expecting our budgets to increase for the next 6 years, but our costs will. If we do nothing, our budget gap will be £153 million by 2013.

I am more convinced than ever that our New Strategic Direction is right. We spent many months co-authoring it and sharing it. My concern is that we are not delivering it. Friday’s workshop proved that at least 175 colleagues understand the direction. People know the ‘burning platform’ of financial crisis is coming, but we are acting as if it’s off the shores of Louisiana – too remote to affect us. So Friday was a call to action – the start of a new programme of change that will reduce our costs.

The New Strategic Direction is about radically redesigning public services across Suffolk to achieve the Suffolk Story priorities in the new, reduced, financial context. It is about challenging our spend and dramatically reducing our costs. To prevent the £153m budget gap, we need to switch off the demand for our services in two ways: by addressing the root cause of social problems and fixing them once and for all; and by building social capital to strengthen communities to help themselves. Where services still need to be provided, we will work collaboratively with district councils, health, police and the voluntary sector to join up services across the public sector using lean systems thinking to cut out waste and meet real (rather than perceived) customer needs. Currently the council is not fit to do this: that’s why I wrote ‘Reshaping the Council’ to challenge us into a new way of thinking. That’s why I’ve brought in a new Director for Organisational Change (Max Wide) to develop a hardnosed programme to implement the New Strategic Direction.

I believe the council needs to change. It is too slow, too complex, over elaborate, risk adverse, designed more for the regulator than the customer, and now – in a new financial climate – too expensive. I know it will need to be leaner, smaller, cheaper, more creative, and more innovative. That means we need to radically rethink what we do and how we do it. We have to develop more commercial skills to understand our costs better and drive them down.

This will mean fewer people will work for the council in the future. There will be job losses. I don’t know how many – if I did, I would tell you – but we need to reduce our staffing costs. I heard a rumour last week that some people thought if they got on the invite list for Friday’s workshop, their jobs were safe. Not true. Those who attended heard me tell them that. I want our most creative, innovative, hard working colleagues to stay in the council. I’ll try to encourage that to happen. Just reducing our headcount however won’t close our budget gap: I thought it would, but I was wrong. If we cut our managers by 30% - that’s about 400 posts – it would save £55m. So cutting jobs alone is not enough.

I don’t expect us to be running a big redundancy programme because we can’t afford it. Nor do I think we have the public sympathy to spend taxpayers’ money on paying people to leave. So we’ll need to think more creatively about how we get staffing costs down – we certainly can’t afford to keep recruiting people (we recruited 1,800 new staff last year) or to allow non-performance to go unchallenged.

The great thing about Friday’s workshop is it showed managers across the council know that the council needs to change. The reality of the financial crisis is well known. The need for change is accepted - what we now need to focus upon is how to change. How to “de-treacle” the council without alienating the regulators. How to radically rethink whether we should still deliver all services. How to reduce demand for our services in the future. How to rethink our current assumptions.

As a result of Friday’s workshop, we are now building a programme of projects to reduce costs and start transforming services. We will start with the ‘big ticket items’ most likely to deliver the biggest savings. The projects will have robust business cases – tightly managed to ensure hard cash savings. We will resource the projects with teams of people from across the council to challenge current departmental mindsets and to support colleagues thinking out of the box. It is this programme that will set out what we think the council collectively needs to do to deliver the New Strategic Direction.

Andrea Hill

Chief Executive

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