Open letter from Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone

In this open letter to readers, Cllr Roger Stone, leader of Rotherham Borough Council, spells out how the authority is tackling funding cuts and its aims for the coming months.

IN just over two weeks’ time, Rotherham Borough Council’s Cabinet will consider proposals to tackle the borough’s biggest ever budget deficit and will make its recommendations to the full council meeting in March.

This unprecedented financial challenge has been created by the withdrawal of central government funding and grant allocations to local councils, resulting in a gap of £30.3 million for Rotherham next year.

In July last year, when the plans of the newly-elected coalition government were becoming apparent, I wrote an open letter to the people of Rotherham to prepare them for the tough times that were likely to lie ahead.

At that time, we were forced to revisit the budget we had set just four months earlier, to find an extra £10 million that was withdrawn by the coalition’s emergency budget.

We also began to look ahead and anticipate the likely impact of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review which sets out how much money we are allocated by government to deliver services.

Most people are now aware that as the scale of the cuts has unfolded, so has the reality that the financial package available to us is much worse than any of us could have ever  imagined.

From the outset, we have said that our focus must be on the customers we serve, the communities and families of Rotherham—and not our organisational structure.

We pledged to identify areas where better ways of working could result in greater efficiency and effectiveness, which in turn could help us protect services for those most in need.

Our priority has been to protect services for the most vulnerable members of our community and therefore our first course of action has been to streamline our management and administration and to squeeze as many savings as possible from our own structure and operations.

However, faced with such a momentous budget deficit, there are still tough choices to be made and these are likely to be reflected in the proposals put to Cabinet later this month.

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True to our word, our strategy has been to reduce as far as possible our ‘back office’ costs—the management, administrative and support services behind the scenes—as a means of protecting frontline services.

We have carried out 15 service reviews across the authority to see where teams can be merged or streamlined, where our buildings and other assets can be used or disposed of more effectively and where the scope of individual managers can be increased.

The council’s non-school workforce has reduced by approximately 350 since January 2010, with more than 50 per cent of these posts lost from manager level and non-frontline services.

These are the areas you told us you wanted us to deal with first in your responses to our recent Money Matters budget consultation.

We are grateful for the public support given to our strategy of reducing administration, bureaucracy and management costs, and to the other views and comments put forward by the people of Rotherham who have taken part in Money Matters.

The council has also taken account of other suggestions which came out of the consultation.

For example, there was support for changes in our approach to communications and marketing and we now no longer provide a financial contribution to Rotherham News, which ceased publication in August of last year.

The council is one of Rotherham’s biggest employers, and it also is a difficult time for our staff.

We have tried very hard to avoid compulsory redundancies in reducing our workforce.

Many of our staff live in Rotherham and any job losses inevitably impact on our wider local community and economy.

Consultation is taking place with trade union representatives who are being asked to consider a number of changes to employee terms and conditions as a contribution to the budget gap.

We appreciate the involvement and co-operation of the trade unions in these and other discussions.

We are working with our partners across Rotherham—all of whom are facing their own budget challenges—to ensure we all achieve ‘more bang for our buck’ by pooling ideas, resources and, where appropriate, service delivery.

Doing nothing—or assuming the council can just do things in the way it has always done them—are no longer viable options.

In such a difficult economic climate, we are being forced to revisit, scrutinise and prioritise all our activity and spending.

Clearly we have a short-term objective to balance our budget for this year and to ensure that we have realistic, affordable spending plans for 2011/2012.

However, we believe it is important to have an eye to the next three or four years and to avoid knee-jerk reactions that could cost us unnecessarily in the longer term.

Our ultimate objective is to ensure the best possible services for the people of Rotherham—particularly those who are vulnerable—within the resources that the

Government has determined for us. 

These are challenging times not only for local government, but for everyone.

Just like any family, the council must ensure it doesn’t live beyond its means. We owe this to the people of Rotherham, who remain our priority at all times.

Cllr Roger Stone, leader, Rotherham Borough Council.