17 February 2012

Walkley's warblings - 17 February 2012

The whitethroat is a medium-sized warbler, about the size of a great tit. (RSPB)

Although the out of office was on earlier the Chief Executive's weekly message still appeared. It comes from the First Team email address so could have been sent by anyone.

From: First Team
Sent: 17 February 2012 16:19
To: AllStaff
Subject: Weekly message from the Chief Executive

At the end of last week the 2012-15 Budget and Business Plan papers were published for the Cabinet meeting this coming Monday.

The plans are similar to the draft budget published back in November (or indeed the proposals first outlined last year). This is in itself important as it reflects efforts right across the organisation to ensure we deliver savings and balance the budget (we are on track to do this again this year). As I said in my pre Christmas briefings to staff, sound finances are vital if we are to continue to sustain strong public services.

The significant changes in the budget are mainly positive - more council tax than expected, lower levies to external bodies and the increased confidence in getting back the money tied up in Icelandic banks.

Adding all these sums together goes nowhere near tackling the massive financial challenges we face as central money reduces and demands for services grow. Moreover the money is primarily one-off so spending it on recurrent items in one year will only mean bigger savings in the future.

However, we do have some ability to continue to "invest to save" and to ensure we have sufficient funds to help us withstand any further downturns in public spending. The new Corporate Plan reflects this approach to continuing to plan prudently to manage with fewer resources.

The Administration remains committed to low council tax and the budget improvements also mean that there will be no increase in council tax for 2012-13. The prediction for 2013-14 is for a 2.5% increase rather than the 5% increase anticipated back in November. Mr Mustard would prefer a modest increase each year than see cuts to the services of those in need.

Our position also means that we are able to make some investments in priority areas - not least funding school places (including new schools) to meet demand. The Administration is also keen to find funds to support those in the community worst affected by the state of the economy and in particular develop responses to youth unemployment in the borough. You are duty bound to provide school places. You need to slow down expansion of the borough - we do not want population explosion in leafy Barnet.

However the positive news should not mask this is a budget with further staffing reductions and service changes. We continue to work hard to minimise redundancy through redeployment and reducing the use of temporary staff and I'm confident that we will again have lower numbers by March than most London authorities. Now to the meat of the message. The question is of course why there is such a vast spend on agency staff. The Cabinet report referred to has a blurred table on page 327 of £3.8 million. Not sure that comparisons with other boroughs is of great help. My apple is rotten, oh yours is more rotten, is mine no good to eat?

This may not be a time of rising funding and expanding public service but the budget report and business plan are about how we can evolve and innovate to support the residents of Barnet through challenging times. 


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