Why council must not lose its heart

RADICAL changes are coming to the county council.

The changes may not be what people want in Endeavour House, but facing the prospect of swingeing budget cuts chief executive Andrea Hill has plotted a “New Strategic Direction” for the authority.

Much of what is being proposed can be seen as necessary. Whether or not you feel that the level of cuts being proposed by central government is necessary, the fact is they are coming.

If the council was to stick its head in the sand, try to carry on regardless and just try to find the odd efficiency saving here and there it would rightly be seen as behaving irresponsibly.

However there are ways of bringing in change that carry the staff and customers (by which I mean everyone living and working in Suffolk) with you rather than making them hostile and suspicious.

And that is what has been happening in Suffolk over recent weeks and months – and it has created an atmosphere of fear within Endeavour House and concern outside the headquarters.

On the one hand we have the official voice of the administration insisting that no decisions on job numbers, services, or salaries have been made.

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On the other hand there have been increasingly apocalyptic memos and briefings coming from the very top of the organisation which have left people feeling threatened and concerned.

One week we get a briefing that employment costs are going to have to be cut by 30 per cent or more in non-school departments.

The next we are challenged when we we work out that 30pc of 12,000 is nearly 4,000 jobs.

What senior officials and councillors have to realise is that their staff and customers are not stupid – and don’t want to be treated as hostile just because they ask questions.

If staff ask how the new system is going to work, it isn’t necessarily because they are opposed to the idea of change – they just want to know how change will affect them.

With Thatcherism in the 1980s a culture developed that anyone questioning any aspect of government policy was by definition hostile. If you weren’t for the idea, you were obviously against it.

It would be a tragedy for Suffolk if this attitude were to be repeated here in the 21st century. Big changes are coming to the county, but in the rush to reinvent itself the authority must not lose its greatest asset - its heart.