County Councillor Danielle Stone, deputy leader of the County Labour Group,
comments on the last and final budget at the County, before the Shadow Authority takes over.
What went wrong at the county prior to 2018?
Bad decision making, members not involved in decision making, members not kept fully informed about important matters, illegal capitalisation, top heavy and expensive management, over use of expensive interims and consultants, over use of expensive agency staff, too many children coming into care because of a lack of preventive services, failing children’s services, children being sent out of county, over reliance on agency foster carers. The sale of assets instead of the exploitation of assets-think Angel Square; over reliance on who you know, bringing your mates in instead of due process, out sourcing not insourcing, poor commissioning, poor contract management, and amazing turn over in key posts. We are on our 8th Director of children’s and 10th head of virtual schools. The 5th Chief Finance Officer. Now we are told with the establishment of the Children’s Trust we are unlikely to be able to recruit to the two main posts of director and chief finance officer, and will have to use interims.
What has actually changed?
Not a lot. We still have a top heavy expensive management tier plus commissioners. We still are reliant on interims and agency staff. We still don’t have enough preventative work going on. We are still selling assets to balance the budget, think Grendon Hall. Our budget may be less fragile than before there are still risks. What if we don’t collect all the Council Tax? What if we don’t get in the forecast business rates? It is a growth budget but most of the growth is in corporate services.
Who, in terms of our core business as a public service, is benefiting?
Not the 47,000 children living in poverty, not the 1100 children in care and their families, not the people in disadvantaged areas of the county where life expectancy is going down. I am really interested in the difference between what we need and what we have got. What is it? How can we plan of we don’t know? I am really interested in how we cover the budget gap. It should be about income generation and efficiency, not savings. I am really interested in value for money judgements. Our last 4 audits at the county have given us an adverse judgment on value for money and is likely to do so again. I have no confidence at all in that magical word transformation-it seems to be a new word for cuts. Doing things differently-looks to me as if we are taking the social value out of services. As if services are purely transactional. They are not.
Alternative Principles re the budget
Smart budgeting- in order to prevent silo working, to maximise spend and get best value for money.
Zero base lines-other wise how are we to know the real cost of services?
Budget gaps-stop adding an annual 3% inflation to commercial contracts. We don’t do it with Vol Sector contracts do we? Generate income through better contract management, investment, maximising assets.
Better contract scrutiny to ensure we are not being double charged. Bring services in house as contracts expire.
In place of commissioning we should use the co design, co delivery model.
Services must be provided in house, with the appropriate partners.
All contracts must be outcome based, with logical and easy to monitor milestones
Poverty Prevention. Lift our staff out of poverty, become an accredited Living Wage Foundation Living Wage Employer. This means putting this into all contracts. Minimum wage is £7.70 ph. LWFLW is £9.80 ph.
Develop Grendon Hall as a conference centre, care home or residential home. Save annual mothballing and depreciation costs.
Working in partnership with housing, further develop our capacity to provide in house supported housing for care leavers, and adults with learning disabilities. Bring out of county cared for adults and children back in county where we can best meet their needs.
Review privately provided complementary education. Are we getting value for money quality education?
Lobby government to have the £11m overspend on Northampton International Academy paid back.
Lobby Government to bring per capita budgets for education in line with the national average.
Develop a strategy for working with the voluntary sector to build on their local intelligence and service expertise. To prevent duplication. To ensure maximum income for front line services.
Issues around the children’s trust
Duplication of leadership roles. There will be 3 children’s directors-one for each Unitary and one for the Trust. They will commission services.
Outstanding Children’s services rely on great infrastructure- HR, Legal, IT, Admin- none of these are in place.
It relies on permanent and retained staff- this is not in place.
The success of the Trust depends on an end to silo working and robust partnerships across education, housing, adults, and prevention services. This is not happening and will be more difficult with a centralised service.