The mar­ket is back!

To save money coun­cil spends ex­tra £8m on wages

The Wokingham Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By PHIL CREIGHTON news@wok­ing­ham­pa­

A PLAN to help the coun­cil save money has seen spend­ing soar by £8 mil­lion in just two years.

Fig­ures ob­tained un­der a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­veal that spend­ing on tem­po­rary staff has al­most dou­bled since the 2015/16 fi­nan­cial year – a sim­i­lar rise has been ex­pe­ri­ence in con­sul­tancy costs.

And sick pay has also in­creased to reach al­most £100,000 a year.

In 2015-16, Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil (WBC) spent £5,795,100.38 on con­sul­ta­tions, but in the year 2017-18, this had risen to £9,634,295.56.

The spend­ing on agency staff to cover va­can­cies had gone up from £4,017,165.64 to £7,811,563.03.

Mean­while, as part of its

21st Cen­tury Coun­cil sav­ings pro­gramme, re­dun­dancy costs had risen from £32,005.19 to £96,708.88.

The salary bill had re­mained rel­a­tively static de­spite the re­dun­dan­cies: £23,496,584.49 to £23,496,584.49.

WBC in­terim chief ex­ec­u­tive Man­jeet Gill de­fended the fig­ures, say­ing that the in­creased pres­sures on so­cial care was ham­per­ing its work.

But Wok­ing­ham Lib­eral Demo­crat leader Cllr Lind­say Fer­ris said that it pointed to a coun­cil that was spend­ing too much on tem­po­rary staff and ac­cused the coun­cil of fall­ing apart.

Ms Gill said: “Like many coun­cils around the county we’re fac­ing huge de­mands on our ser­vices. We face in­creased pres­sures in ar­eas such as adult so­cial care be­cause of the ris­ing num­ber of older peo­ple need­ing care.

“This im­pacts on our bud­get as we need more staff to pro­vide these vi­tal ser­vices.

Ms Gill con­tin­ued: “Our far reach­ing 21st Cen­tury Coun­cil pro­gramme is mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to our over­all plans, and we’re be­com­ing a leaner, more ef­fi­cient coun­cil cost­ing sig­nif­i­cantly less to run.

“It’s a pe­riod of sig­nif­i­cant change for the coun­cil. With­out the 21st Cen­tury Coun­cil pro­gramme we would face even more bud­get pres­sures which could af­fect the ser­vices we pro­vide. The posts cur­rently oc­cu­pied on an in­terim ba­sis will ei­ther dis­ap­pear once the pro­gramme is fully im­ple­mented or will be sub­ject to per­ma­nent recruitment, at the right time.

“This is a dif­fi­cult time for recruitment and re­ten­tion in lo­cal govern­ment and in par­tic­u­lar in the South East.

“That said dur­ing the last year we have re­cruited per­ma­nently to many posts in­clud­ing the re­cent ap­point­ment of the Di­rec­tor of Chil­dren’s Ser­vices, due to be rat­i­fied by Coun­cil on Septem­ber 20. And we will ap­point a new chief ex­ec­u­tive and di­rec­tor of cus­tomer and lo­cal­i­ties by the end of the year.”

But Cllr Lind­say Fer­ris said: “We raised con­cerns about over­spend­ing in 21st Cen­tury Coun­cil last year. We had then been ad­vised that there would be a £4 mil­lion sav­ing, but it was clear that any po­ten­tial sav­ing had been de­layed and there were clear over­spends in 16/17 & 17/18 fi­ance years.

“We jok­ingly said the Coun­cil was Fall­ing Apart, but now we say It has Fallen Apart.

“On the over­all bud­get we have se­ri­ous con­cerns that WBC may be head­ing in the same di­rec­tion as Northamp­ton­shire County Coun­cil.”

And Labour group leader Cllr Andy Croy added: “Lo­cal govern­ment work­ers have seen year af­ter year of real terms pay cuts. This is de­lib­er­ate.

The Tories hate lo­cal govern­ment and want to weaken it.

“Mean­while, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties still have to pro­vide ser­vices to lo­cal peo­ple and face a choice: leave vi­tal posts un­filled or em­ploy agency work­ers. At the same time an in­creased work­load on re­main­ing staff is bound to lead to in­creased lev­els of stress and sick­ness.

“As much as I would like to blame the in­com­pe­tence of the lo­cal Tories this is more to do with the vi­cious­ness of the na­tional party they be­long to and which they cam­paign for.”

Pic­ture: Phil Creighton

Cus­tomers flocked to the first Farm­ers’ Mar­ket to take place in the new Mar­ket Place last Thurs­day. Buy­ing beans from Peter Gray from Grays Farm are Mau­reen and Ed­ward Brown. Full story page 11

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