Guest blog: Paul Brant explains how Liverpool council is preparing for a financial storm
In the words of one unnamed Government minister, if you think you've seen cuts, 'you aint seen nothing yet'. George Osborne has told ministers to prepare for between 25-40% cuts in the next few years. Even the Thatcher Government didn't attempt anything like this scale of cuts.
As a newly elected Labour council we are committed to trying to minimise the impact on frontline services, but this means that we must take steps now to prepare for the tsunami of cuts which we are about to be hit with.
If we don't take steps now we run the risk of being overwhelmed by the scale and speed of savings which will have to be made. If this happens then wholesale loss of non statutory services are possible, and many of these serve some of the most vulnerable sections of our communities.
The first step we took when we came into power was to slam the breaks on non-essential appointments to the council. We have acted to reduce money spent on conferences, office furniture and pot plants, however this will only get the council so far, the vast majority of council expenditure is on staffing costs.
If protecting frontline services means anything, it means trying to make savings from senior management and upper management first. Our senior managers have agreed to give up their right to contractual bonuses, this will save over ÃÂ£500,000 a year, and is a good example of how the council staff are all pulling together to prepare for what we know is coming.
We know that a council with 25-40% less income will have to employ fewer people, but we determined not to target those at the bottom first as so often happens when cuts are made. We have first turned to those who earn over ÃÂ£100,000 for volunteers for early severance. We are slowly working down the earnings levels in the council seeing who wants to take voluntary severance and thus reduce the council's overall wage bill. The restructured organisation which emerges will be leaner, and may not totally avoid service reduction, but it would undoubtedly be much worse if we just waited like rabbits in the headlights for the cuts which are coming.
It is deeply unsettling for all people in the council to see big names leaving, especially when we have had a team who have through hard work and delivery earned loyalty and trust. However if we do not take steps now to slim down the council with the consent of the workforce, the alternative would be much worse.
As Liverpool City Council gets 80% of its income from Government, it is very much the plaything of the Lib Dem/Tory coalition's actions. We have already seen our BSF Schools rebuilding program axed, and over ÃÂ£9million of in year cuts to the mainly voluntary sector funded programs. However the real cuts are going to be announced in October, and will ricochet around the public services for many years after.
The difficult steps being taken now are an attempt to batten down hatches before this storm hits.
Paul Brant is deputy leader and cabinet member for finance at Liverpool council.