In its recent budget consultation the Council’s aim was to reach budget reductions of £670k each year to live within the means of reducing government funding.
Already faced with this sizeable financial challenge, the Council learned in December 2016 that its contributions to the Nottinghamshire Pension Fund will increase significantly and at the same time, the Government changed the rules around New Homes Bonus, which will eventually cut in half the Council’s receipts of this grant. Taken together, these result in the annual budget savings now needing to be approximately £900k.
Facing such a big challenge, the Council is focusing hard on reducing its costs wherever possible, and increasing its income. As well as this, the Council now has no choice but to consider the services it offers and how; it may mean the end of some services. The Council aims for a number of new proposals to be considered in the coming weeks so that projects can be implemented and savings realised starting in the new financial year.
Leader of the Council, Cllr Cheryl Butler, commenting on the financial challenge: “In the past few years we have worked very hard to balance our books and have continued to deliver services, whilst at the same time making efficiencies and savings. By looking very carefully at what we do, we have managed minimum cuts to the services we deliver, but now new funding cuts will have a huge impact on which services are delivered and how we deliver them. We now also have to delve even deeper and we have a number of new options for change to consider. These Central Government cuts will have a massive impact on everyone in Ashfield and we will have some very difficult decisions to make.”
Some of the options to bridge the gap are detailed below.
Senior Leadership structure
The Council’s Chief Executive will identify options to reduce the number of Directors at the Council in a further effort to reduce management costs while protecting front line services. The Council’s management team has already been reduced in previous years but further savings of £100k have been identified in the budget.
Commenting on the new saving proposals, Cllr Butler said: “We already have a number of proposals agreed by Cabinet in January but, unfortunately, these just aren’t enough to get to where we need to be because of the Government’s continued cuts to our funding. These new options for change are bringing ideas from all areas of the Council and are essential to go towards helping us to meet the new targets. At the same time, we are continually looking for ways to become even more efficient, to increase existing income and generate new income sources.”
Ashfield Green Business Scheme
Trade waste customers have repeatedly said that they want to recycle more, so the Council will shortly be reorganising how we collect trade waste and introducing a fully integrated recycling service for their collections.
As part of this, the authority will be launching the ‘Ashfield Green Business’ scheme, as a thank you to our customers. The scheme means that businesses using Council waste and recycling service automatically receive bronze accreditation and if they also use other Council services like pest control, or become environmental volunteers, they could receive silver or gold accreditation.
Introducing new fees for Building Control services
The building control team provides services relating to building work that is subject to the Building Regulations. In reviewing these services, the Council will consider introducing new fees for services, for example Decision Notices and Certificate Copies, generating £13k additional income yet still offering good value for money for customers.
Charging for Environmental Information Requests
The Council devotes time and resources to respond to requests for environmental information. Recent case law has shown it is appropriate for councils to seek reimbursement for the time taken to service such requests and as such a charge will shortly be introduced for these requests, potentially generating £20k income.
Additional Environmental Health business services
Following the recent positive publicity regarding the quality of Ashfield food businesses and the support provided to them by the Council, there may be an opportunity to offer additional services to business including training and pre-inspection advice and guidance, generating £5k additional income.
Reducing Area Committee Environmental maintenance budget
The Council currently provides each member with £750 a year to fund floral displays, replace bins and improve street furniture (signs and benches). It is proposed that the Council continues to fund floral displays with a small allowance for other maintenance items. This would provide a saving of £14K.
In 2016, both the Council and Ashfield Homes self-assessed as meeting the ‘Achieving ‘ level of the Local Government/Social Housing Equalities Frameworks confirming that policies, practices and procedures relating to equalities and diversity practice are now sufficiently embedded across the organisation.
Now this has been achieved, it is believed that having a specific role via the shared HR service provided by Mansfield District Council is no longer required. The Council will still comply with Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Duty that necessitates provision of specific policy, practice and publishing of annual data e.g. equality objectives and annual workforce profile which will be undertaken by Council services and managers. This would offer a budget saving of £13k.
Agency use for Environment team’s seasonal staffing
To support the environmental requirements of the district, the Council requires an additional 15 Full Time Employees (FTEs) during the growing season, for example for grass cutting etc, both for our own operations and for supporting the highways contract.
In recent years, the Council has used fixed term contracts for these roles. Returning to an agency agreement, will offer more flexibility and reduce the amount of time required in recruiting and managing the employees, as well as leading to a saving of £41k.
All of the options will be subject to consideration by Scrutiny Committee on Thursday, 9 February prior to reports to Cabinet and Council.