How big are the cuts in service that Liverpool council needs to make this year? Well we have a number of different figures.
We start with a headline figure of £90,000,000 of savings being looked at. We then get a figure that we actually need to save which is £50,000,000. Then Joe Anderson the Council Leader tells us today that 57% of the £50,000,000 will be found by efficiencies so that means cuts of ‘only’ £21,500,000. Still with me? Well it gets even more complicated!
I ask the Director of Finance what the split is between cuts and efficiencies. Well it’s more complicated than that he says, “If we took all the efficiencies available to us 78% of the savings would come from efficiencies and 22% from cuts in services to residents. That means a cut of £11,000,000 in service delivery. Strewth that’s a big jump backwards in a few days from £90,000,000 to £11,000,000.
That echoes what we have been saying not just in the past few weeks but for the past 2 years. In August 2009 I warned the council of a major reduction in available public funding irrespective of who won the 2010 General Election. I evidenced the savings that could be made by a ‘Total Place approach to spending. This approach means totally reviewing how money is spent by all the public sector and finding better, more efficient ways to spend it. Those reviews found that up to 20% of costs would be saved if we did things fundamentally differently.
That was always my complaint about the way that cuts were made to local government by Laurel and Hardy. Firstly, local councils, already the most efficient part of government was being asked to take the largest cuts. Secondly, they were being asked to take it too quickly. Councils simply could not make the level of savings required that quickly. Doing things in a new way and usually in partnership cannot be done overnight.
Now we are moving onto the range of savings envisaged by Total Place. The council has already identified more efficiency saving particularly in the health and social care budgets which can be found in future years. We should never forget two things about this:
Doing things more efficiently ALWAYS means doing things with less people. Some good people have and will leave the public sector through no fault of their own but we exist to provide services to those that need them and not jobs.
Secondly those services cannot be produced without a good deal of hard work by Councillors, officials and partners. So I congratulate Cllr Anderson and Ged Fitzgerald for that hard work. But let’s not pretend that an efficiency saving which should be made is the same as a cut. It isn’t. If we are to find new solutions for the rickety state of local government financing we need to have informed debates and not scare tactics and alarmist stories.