On Wednesday 26th January 2011 we were delighted to welcome back Chief executive of the City of York Council Kersten England for breakfast at Spurriergate.
In a climate of cuts, Kersten came straight to the point that COYC were coming up to the most difficult budget that they had ever set.
The Centre for Cities report which had just been published showed York as second fastest growing city in the UK after Milton Keynes, and also put us in the top 10 for highest skill levels, just after Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Of the 63 cities in the report York was listed as least likely to be impacted by welfare cuts.
Claimant costs in York are below the regional and national averages and the amount of time spent on benefits is also lower. Major local employers like CPP, Nestle, Aviva and the University of York all have plans to recruit staff in the next year.
On the horizon is hope for the development of brownfield sites, and there are a number of projects in planning as well as the imminent re-launch of the Barbican centre with tickets on sale for as early as May.
The greatest areas of challenge though are in the public sector with a seismic shift ahead for England. This Government’s policies include a belief that we have taken too much responsibility from people, interfered with their lives too much and debilitated individuals and communities by removing responsibility from them.
Overfunding of the public sector has crowded out the private sector, so we have diminished the production of wealth. The net results of the change in policy are a13% reduction in grant which equates to about £13.5 million less from the government. The gap between what COYC believed it needed to continue to run services and the grant is £21 million. The factors creating this shortfall are :
– the grant reduction
– Rise in demand for services (shifting demographics – age/choice)
– Increasing demand for child social care
– Waste disposal/land-fill tax. A partnership has been created with North Yorkshire to develop an incinerator that generates power.
– Bad weather demolished car park income.
Kersten encouraged us to come along and experience council meetings and see how democracy happens.
The key priority of the COYC is to protect its core statutory duties in the care of the vulnerable – children, youths and adults, and keep the city clean, safe, lit and maintain access to libraries.
The next priority of the council will be to continue to create opportunities for the city to grow and for young people to leave school with options.
A Family Interaction Project which had been run with funding (which has now dried up) was working with whole families in their contexts and communities. The council still sees this as a priority because by spending small amounts now on the families of about 200 young people, real change can happen. An investment now of about £100,000 could save £100 million over the lifetimes of these young people. Creating services is an investment that can lead to better long term outcomes.
It is also important to cut out waste and drive up efficiency. Management costs are being reduced by taking out approximately 30% of the top tier and 18% of the next tier. A programme of rationalising the property owned by the council is underway. New residential care facilities are needed as existing ones are not fit for purpose, but by working with PCT’s and GP’s there will be an effort to produce options as most of us never want to go into such facilities.
Currently the council are not proposing the closure of children’s centres but may be looking for volunteer partners. The COYC is also setting up a Local Authority Company which will trade in services such as providing back office support etc.
By partnering with the voluntary sector, it is hoped the COYC can keep cuts lower. In the coming year the council foresees 170 job cuts but will make every effort to redeploy staff and minimise the impact to families.
The council have a concern for health and wellbeing , and the church’s concern especially with spiritual wellbeing means that we overlap. Kersten was looking for greater cooperation and for us to extend our services to meet demand, but not necessarily for free. The church was described as a critical frined to the council at this time. At the difficult time for us all the council is grateful for the work of the chaplaincy, and in what looks like a very tough couple of years ahead, the real worry is for those vulnerable people who may slip through our joint nets.
Kersten’s frankness and willingness to answer questions was greatly appreciated. We prayed for her and the council and committed ourselves to continue in prayer and engagement.