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City Council announces transformation plans. (This news is available in audio format here)

The Open Council are proud to announce that Newcastle City Council has today unveiled plans to make big changes to its structure, organisation and buying patterns in an effort to refocus all its attentions on front-line services to the public.

Acting Chief Executive Barry Rowland introduced the proposals, that are to be worked up further and to go out to consultation with staff, saying

"We’re bringing forward these changes because we’ve recognised an opportunity to concentrate a greater share of our resources on front-line services for the people of Newcastle. Where we’ve changed the way that we work in the past in different parts of the Council, and achieved savings and service improvements through the efficiencies we’ve gained, we’ve not previously looked at the ways we work across the whole of the Council. This is simply the right thing to do, but is doubly important now we face a budget gap next year of £20 million, due to a low government grant increase, growing demand on services, and increased costs and reduced income due to the economic downturn. By being more efficient behind the scenes, the public will notice a real difference, for example in having their calls answered more quickly, or through having to fill in fewer forms. "

Leader of the Council John Shipley said:

"Protecting front-line services is our top priority in making these changes, and we’re also committed to handling job reductions sensitively so we can minimise and where possible avoid having a negative impact on our hardworking and dedicated staff. Finding £20 million in efficiency savings will be tremendously challenging, but it is absolutely the right thing to do. As well as saving money, these changes will lead to real and important service improvements in some areas - not least in better supporting people who need care in their own homes to help them gain more independence. It will also help the Council meet its promise to keep council tax increases at or below inflation."

Largest amongst the nine plans - and due to save £9.1 million next year alone - is an initiative to streamline management arrangements and shed 270 management jobs. The Council employs around 10,000 staff (excluding teaching staff, who are not covered by these plans), of whom around 1,400 are managers. Over half of these 1,400 manage four or fewer people, and in some areas the Council has ten or more layers of management between the Chief Executive and front-line staff directly serving the public. The new plans intend that managers will each lead teams with a minimum of seven staff each, and often up to 12 - and to reduce in most cases the layers of management to four. Some current managers who are experts in their fields will stay on in new specialist roles which reflect their expertise and experience.

Another change announced today aiming to save £3.7 million next year is in how the Council manages the £400 million plus a year that it spends on goods, products and services. Having brought in external experts with a widespread knowledge of market prices across the country, the Council has identified specific areas of spending where it believes it can negotiate better prices over the next year - including in telecommunications, printing, computer hardware, and agency staffing. There are no job reductions planned as part of these changes.

Other changes will be in Council administration systems, bringing together admin staff into larger teams, reducing paperwork, and making systems run more smoothly. Saving £2.5 million next year, these plans will require up to 125 fewer admin staff out of 490 full time equivalent staff.

Over the next year, the Council will be investing extra in extending a hugely successful and popular scheme providing more intensive care at home, for example to older people leaving hospital after suffering a fall. Where most of the care at home support provided by the Council is a few hours a week and continues for many months and years, the STAR scheme has instead provided much more intensive and expert support to people in their homes, for more hours each week. As a result, a high proportion of people receiving the enhanced service have made a fuller recovery and regained their independence so that they can cope better at home. By substantially extending this scheme, the Council will be helping more people to lead fuller lives - and in the long-term, will actually save money as they will in due course want and need less long-term ongoing care. It’s important to stress that these changes do not represent a cut in service - nobody who currently receives ongoing care at home support from the Council and who still wants and needs it will have it withdrawn as a result. It’s also important to stress that the staff currently employed by the Council to provide care at home will gain new opportunities to use and develop their valuable skills in providing this more intensive care. There are no job reductions planned as part of these changes.

Other changes unveiled today are to improve customer access - for example, by cutting down the 60+ different telephone numbers advertised to the public, and reviewing systems which mean that people often have to fill in forms with the same details several times - saving £979,000 next year, and meaning that the public will get a more direct, efficient and speedy service from the Council. It’s anticipated that there will be approximately 56 posts lost next year as a result.

Other changes include to the way that the Council organises its transport and vehicles (such as by making better use of the many cars, buses and vans that are used across the Council), saving up to £800,000 next year. There are no job reductions planned as part of these changes.

Another will be to the way that the Council manages its 300+ buildings, saving up to £750,000 next year. These changes are likely to lead to up to 22 posts lost.

Another set of changes proposed today will be a review of how the Council handles various strategic services - such as policy development, communication, performance management, and programme management. Although these proposals don’t yet include details of new ways of working, it’s anticipated that £280,000 can be saved next year, with up to 14 posts being lost across these different professional disciplines.

The final of the nine sets of proposals will be looking at the services delivered at a local level in all 26 of the City’s wards such as street cleansing and community safety services such as fly tipping, removal, litter picking, street sweeping, graffiti removal and street wardens; and minor environmental improvement works, liaising over community safety, ward investment, and local community and partnership working. Savings will be found by carrying out this work through productivity improvements and making service standards consistent - £500,000 next year from a total spend in this area of £10.9 million, and likely to lead to 23 job losses out of 339 posts.

The potential posts potentially to be removed next year across these nine areas of activity adds up to around 500, some 5-6% of the Council’s workforce (with well over half coming in manager job cuts). The Council is committed to handling these changes as sensitively as possible. At present, any casual vacancies that arise as staff retire or leave for new jobs (unless they are absolutely essential to fill urgently) are being held open - so that either these posts (if they are in the right area) can be the ones that are cut, or so they can provide opportunities to redeploy staff who are ultimately going to be affected. At present there are a number of vacant posts held open, and in an average three month period a further 150 posts would typically become vacant as staff retire or find new jobs. Similarly, once the particular posts potentially affected have been identified, there will be an opportunity for staff in those jobs to consider voluntary severance - so that those staff who might be keen to leave or retire early can perhaps go instead of staff who would rather stay.

Ends

Notes to editors

1. The Council will publish its detailed budget plans in January, which will go out to formal public consultation, which will then be amended as appropriate ahead of being decided by full Council on March 4th. Those budget proposals will include details of other spending plans, and also the level of the Council Tax. The Transformation proposals unveiled today will clearly contribute significantly to those budget proposals.

2. The Transformation proposals are intended to deliver further ongoing savings into future years. The cost savings indicated above are those savings anticipated to be found within the next financial year, and in many cases will generate further savings into future years. The post reduction figures are all likely to be achieved within the next year, and should any further such changes be proposed at a later stage, they would be subject to further consultation at that time.

3. Further details of each of the nine Transformation areas discussed above, and how they will be delivered in detail, are to be worked up over coming weeks and months, involving detailed staff and service user consultation as appropriate.

4. Where post losses are referred to, these relate to full-time equivalent [FTE] post numbers. Where some staff potentially affected work part-time, then the number of actual jobs may be higher than the FTE post numbers.